(Christmas - first of two messages)


TEXT:  Luke 2:1-20


A clear night sky, peaceful shepherds watching over their flocks at night, a peaceful town called Bethlehem at the outskirts of the big city Jerusalem, joyful angels singing with beloved shepherds below listening, a kind of holiday atmosphere everywhere, Joseph and Mary lying comfortably next to the baby Jesus on a bed of straw while animals peacefully stroll around, the world is full of joy ... and ... and ... WAIT A MINUTE! This isn't the real story of the times, this is 21st century Christmas pageant stuff, the real story and the real world of that day was more like this:

* terrible political unrest, politicians were hated and not trusted! They were quite corrupt! There were moves to "throw the bums out of Jerusalem!" * Overspending by big government had caused huge new taxes to be created, hence the need for Joseph and Mary to travel back to register for another round of new taxes! The average wage earner couldn't keep a decent standard of living any more! * The religious institutions were getting more and more involved with politics instead of meeting the spiritual needs of the people! * Divorce was a common problem, almost at the 50% mark! * Abortion was common, dead babies often seen floating through open sewer lines in the cities! * The court system was corrupt, criminals were constantly going free on technicalities! * Nations were constantly redrawing their boundaries, there was a nervous peace around the world, especially in the Middle East. * The educated were denying miracles and the supernatural, they believed that science and technology were the best hopes for mankind and the future! * The disparity between rich and poor was getting greater and greater all the time.
This is hardly the picture of that first Christmas most people have today however! Even the healthy religious people of that day were losing hope that the Messiah would ever come, they had been saying this for hundreds of years now and it had not yet happened! Even they were losing hope! In the midst of all this turmoil and hopelessness God makes His appearance in human flesh, the baby Jesus! PROP. SENT:      The Bible shows us the love of God in sending forth His only son to those who will come and worship Him. Only Christ is the great Shepherd, the rest of us are only sheep, and He bids us come to Him and He will take care of us!


A. Pressures     2:1-3 1. The times were not much like the pageant plays of Christmas today! a. Crimes rates were high and jobs were hard to find. b. Racial tensions ran high. c. People were religious but their faith had little practical expression. d. It was anything but a calm peaceful time! e. No one trusted the government, especially Herod. 2. Only a handful of people celebrated the first Christmas, the rest of the world went about its normal business oblivious to Christ's birth! a. The general population was busy trying to deal with the new taxes. b. Tensions in the Middle East were at a boiling point. c. The general population had lost faith in the supernatural. B. Personal     2:4-7 1. For Joseph & Mary it was anything but peaceful! a. Mary was pregnant but not married! At that point in history this meant a lifetime of poverty and rejection, possibly even death! b. Since abortion was common, the pressures were there to consider this. c. Traveling by mule while 9 months pregnant wasn't even a safe thing! d. Timing for traveling while ready to give birth couldn't have been worse! e. They were already poor but now had to come up with more taxes! f. Joseph was being asked to believe in Mary's fidelity, although no woman in history had ever gotten pregnant before while still claiming to be a virgin! g. Even poor Jewish mothers had a nurse take the baby after delivery and wrap it up, but notice in the text it says that "SHE (Mary) wrapped him (Jesus) in cloths and placed Him in a manger…" 2:7 indicating that she didn't even have the smallest benefit of help in the delivery! h. The only adequate crib was the feeding trough of the animals (the manger mentioned here was an animal feeding trough). 2. Public embarrassment and questions would run high! 3. Jesus is born at the worst possible moment for them, trying to register for more taxes away from their own homes! II. DESPISED SHEPHERDS     2:8-20 A. Persecuted!     2:8 1. Outside of Joseph and Mary, the first people to know about the "good news" is a group of people least likely by society to be given this privilege. a. Shepherds were a despised class of people in Jesus' day, nothing like the image we have today from our nativity scenes in our Church plays! b. Shepherds were considered so unreliable in Jewish society that of all people they were the only group that was not allowed to testify in a court of law even if they were eyewitnesses to a crime! c. The modern view we hold of shepherds that they were peaceful men loved by society is so wrong! 2. As a class these shepherds were often poor, uneducated, often considered outcasts of society that performed a meager but necessary service … to watch over the sacrificial lambs for slaughter by worshippers. a. This area from Bethlehem to Jerusalem was where the herds of sacrificial lambs were tended for use in Jerusalem and the Temple by worshippers. b. It is interesting to take note of this fact, since Christ was the "Lamb of God" and it is to those shepherds who oversaw the herds for sacrifice in the Temple that the Angel of God comes to announce news of the Savior's birth. c. Since these are the shepherds of sacrificial lambs it is highly appropriate and prophetic that they should now be called to come and see the "lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world." 3. For these persecuted and despised men God gives them the best Christmas that has ever happened! B. Privileged!     2:9-20 1. These particular Shepherds which came from nearby were the ones who watched over the sacrificial lambs for the Temple, according to Jewish writings all sheep in the fields from Jerusalem to Bethlehem were flocks destined for sacrifice in the Temple. a. How ironic that they were not permitted to testify in Court, but God chose them to be the first to testify for Him! b. The good news came first to the poor, the Old Testament had put a great emphasis on God's love for the poor! c. They who looked after the sacrificial lambs would now look upon God's sacrificial lamb! d. These who are shepherds will now meet the great Shepherd and have the opportunity to become sheep themselves! e. These who would be the last to be invited to anything by society are now the first to be invited by God to come and find the Savior! 2. Truly the last became first here. a. They go about testifying to all the things God had shown them, they are the first shepherds to preach the gospel! b. God always reaches out to those who will come to Him no matter what society thinks of them! 3. Despised by men, they are chosen by God! 4. Are you interested in Jesus or just the celebration that society has at this time of the year? 5. Anyone can come ... a. Poor like the shepherds, rich like the Magi b. Uneducated like the shepherds, or the educated like the Magi c. Jews like the Shepherds, or Gentiles like the Magi d. Despised like the shepherds, or highly respected like the Magi e. From nearby like the shepherds, or far away like the Magi 6. The one thing that both Shepherds and Magi both brought was their worship of Christ, this they both did when they first found Jesus, they bowed and worshipped Him, have you? 7. Only Christ has the power to soothe the evil hearts of men, has He changed yours yet? CONCLUSION:    God has always sought out those who will come to Him, though despised and poor, or respected and rich, educated or uneducated, the one gift we can bring God is ourselves in worship. This is the Spirit of Christmas!!!