Christmas Message #1



TEXT:         Luke 2:1-20


INTRO:       A clear night's sky, peaceful shepherds watching over their flocks at night, a peaceful town called Bethlehem at the outskirts of the big city Jerusalem, 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 20th 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 with tensions 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!  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 yet to happen!  Even they were losing hope!


In the midst of all this turmoil and hopelessness God makes His appearance in human flesh, the baby Jesus!


ILLUS:    Jesus Christ is the only God who has a date in history.   -- Dorothy Sayers, Christian Reader, Vol. 33, no. 6.


PROP. SENT:   The Bible shows us that in Christ there can be “peace and goodwill to all men ON WHOM HIS FAVOR RESTS”  2:14b  In the midst of a world of darkness God has given us a great light.




A.   Pressures    2:1-3

1.   The government was spending huge sums of money, there was a lot of division between conservatives and liberals in the country, high taxes, divorce was common, abortion was acceptable, corrupt political leaders everywhere, scandals were common, all of this combined to create a sense of desperation in the country, some things never change!

a.   Parents were frustrated as to how to raise healthy kids in this kind of environment.

b.   Most people were hoping for some kind of miracle to change things!

2.  The pressure was everywhere, and people were anxious to discover a solution to what seemed like a mess that was out of control.

3.  It was in this atmosphere that a MIRACLE did happen, God sends forth His son the Messiah to redeem man.

a.   No miracle in history has been greater than the birth of Jesus Christ (except the resurrection of Christ!)

b.   The whole world was changed when Christ was born, even today the world is a radically different place because of Christ whether men and women want to acknowledge that or not.

4.  Only Jesus can profoundly change the behavior of man … no one else, no other event in human history has had a more profound effect on humanity than Christ’s arrival in our world.


ILLUS:     There's a problem with the Christmas spirit. You've noticed how it passes?  One of the most striking illustrations of this comes from a story told to me many years ago by an old German man. He fought with the German forces in the First World War. For the benefit of the thirtysomething people, I'll remind you that in those days warfare was not high tech but hand-to-hand trench warfare. Soldiers lived, fought, and died in trenches full of mud and blood and vermin. In those trenches, dug in the fields of France, enemies could actually hear each other talking. They didn't need satellites to locate the enemy.  The enemy was just over there.  This old gentleman told me how on one cold, moonlit Christmas Eve, he huddled in the bottom of the trench. Because of the annual Christmas truce, the fighting had stopped. Suddenly, from the British trenches a loud, sweet tenor voice began to sing "The Lord Is My Shepherd," and the sound floated up into the clear, moonlit air.

    Then he said something surprising: from the German trenches, a rich baritone voice tuned in, singing "Der Herr Ist Mein Heiter auf Deutsche." For a few moments, everybody in both trenches concentrated on the sound of these two invisible singers and the beautiful music and the harmony. The British soldier and the German soldier sang praise to the Lord who was their shepherd. The singing stopped, and the sound slowly died away.

    "We huddled in the bottom of our trenches and tried to keep warm until Christmas Day dawned," he said. "Early on Christmas morning, some of the British soldiers climbed out of their trenches into the no man's land, carrying a football."

One soldier carried a round football (a real football where the foot is applied to the ball!). (You need to understand that whenever the British go anywhere, they always take two things with them: their teapots and their footballs.) These English soldiers started kicking around a football, in a pickup game in no man's land, between the trenches.  Then the old man said, "Some of the German soldiers climbed out, and England played Germany at football in no man's land on Christmas Day in the middle of the battlefield in France in the first World War." (England won.)  Then he said, "The next morning, the carnage began again, with machine guns and bayonet fighting.  Everything was back to normal." -- Stuart Briscoe, "Christmas 365 Days a Year," Preaching Today, Tape No. 135.


5.  It will be Christ’s second coming that will finally solve the problem of the human race’s desperate need.


B.   Personal   2:4-7

1.  In that desperate world was a couple in a desperate situation.

a.   They had to travel to sign up for additional taxes while already poor!

b.   Mary was 9 months pregnant, a horrible time to travel much less by camel!

c.   Going to their home town 9 months pregnant and not married could ruin her reputation and leave them both open to scorn and rejection.

d.   Getting there they found no rooms available, only an area where the animals were kept.

e.   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!

f.    The only adequate crib was the feeding trough of the animals (the manger mentioned here was an animal feeding trough).

2.  In all this personal pressure and societal rejection Joseph and Mary hang on to the Word of God as their guide … a lesson we can also learn from!

3.  While everything seemed less than ideal for this couple and their newborn God’s plan to change the course of history was in full swing!

a.   The desperate hearts of those in a desperate society would now have a real chance for healing and restoration …

b.   The only question is:  “are they listening?”


ILLUS:      Mary and Joseph, along with both the simple shepherds and the learned Wise Men, show us that communication with the Lord needs two partners: God sends a message, but we must be willing to receive the news.   -- Christopher M. Belitto in U.S. Catholic (Dec. 1994). Christianity Today, Vol. 39, no. 14.


4.  During this season how many will have their hearts and minds tuned only to the sounds of this world in celebration, how many will be listening for the marvel of what God has done in the celebration of Christmas?

a.   For the world Christmas is a temporary celebration of joy and family.

b.   For the Christian it is an eternal celebration of freedom from sin and the promise of eternal life!




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 of them 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 for 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 these 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!


ILLUS:     Some businessmen are saying that this could be the greatest Christmas ever.  I always thought that the first one was.  -- Art Fettig in Quotable Quotations, by Lloyd Cory.  Christianity Today, Vol. 30, no. 18.


B.   Privileged!    2:9-20

1.  In the midst of a dark night an angel appears to these men.

a.   Notice their reaction – FEAR!

b.   Jews believed that visitations from angels usually meant bad news, usually announcements of judgment, especially if the visit was at night!

c.   They assume that not only are they already outcasts of society but that now heaven is against them too!

d.   How wrong they were!

2.  The angel begins with:  “Do not be afraid.  I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people …”

a.   God corrects their error about angels’ visits.

b.   God also corrects their image of being rejects by society, God has given them the greatest privilege of all men, the first to hear the “good news” (the definition of “GOSPEL” means “good news”!)

3.  The very same people society would NOT allow to testify in court is now called by God to testify for God!

a.   What a radical affirmation of these men!

b.   Is it any wonder they left immediately to go see the Christ!

4.  God uses His angels to minister to His children…


ILLUS:     Have you ever seen an angel? Dr. S. W. Mitchell thought he had. Dr. Mitchell was a well-known neurologist in Philadelphia. After one very tiring day he retired early, but he was awakened by a persistent knocking at the door. It was a little girl, poorly dressed and deeply upset. She told him that her mother was very sick and needed his help. Even though it was a bitterly cold, snowy night and he was bone tired, Mitchell dressed and followed the girl. He found the mother desperately ill with pneumonia. After treating her, Dr. Mitchell complimented the sick woman on her daughter's persistence and courage. The woman gave him a strange look and said, "My daughter died a month ago. Her shoes and coat are in the closet there." Dr. Mitchell went to the closet and opened the door. There hung the very coat worn by the little girl who had been at his front door. The coat was warm and dry and could not possibly have been out in the snowy night. -- James S. Hewett, Illustrations Unlimited (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1988) p. 28.


a.   While God uses angels to make the first announcement He uses humans from that time to today to make the announcement, we have been given the assignment of angels!  (Greek word for “angel” literally means “messenger”)

b.   These men are highly regarded by God though disregarded by man!

5.  So they are sure they have seen a real angel and got the right message the angel tells them how to find the right baby.

a.   While more than one baby many have been born that night in Bethlehem there was not likely to be more than one laying in a feeding trough, so this sufficiently narrows it down to the right one!

b.   The “heavenly host” that appears and begins to praise God (doesn’t say “sing”) is not a choir, it is literally an ANGEL ARMY!  “Army” is the literal translation of the Greek.  Ironic that it is an ARMY that announces “PEACE ON EARTH, GOOD WILL TO MEN” – hardly the role we normally would think for armies!

6.  Note too that this “good will to men” rests on “whom He favors” – an important statement!

a.   While the world uses this phrase: “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men”… during this time of the year they always cut off this last line because true “peace on earth and good will to men” can only fall on those who are in a favored relationship with God, in other words, the SAVED!

b.   This is why for much of the world this is only a hope, but for believers it is real!

c.   This phrase will only be experienced by the world when they are also believers.

7.  Note verse 17 here, “When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and ALL WHO HEARD IT WERE AMAZED AT WHAT THE SHEPHERDS SAID TO THEM.”

a.   Society wouldn’t let them testify in their courts but God allows them to testify for His kingdom!

b.   No wonder those who heard them were all amazed, after all, these were shepherds telling this, and not many of them were use to taking shepherds at their word!  (the world still has a hard time listening to God’s shepherds today!!!)

8.  This first Christmas the desperate and the despised found great joy and peace … and acceptance from God!

a.   What about you?  Will you just pass through another holiday season ending it with a huge credit card debt and exhaustion over activities?

b.   Will you come to know the “peace on earth and good will toward men ON WHOM HIS FAVOR RESTS”?

c.   Will you find a great joy in knowing that Christmas is not just a season, it is a reason for living!  For Christians the Christmas season is not starting, it has never ended!

9.  Since it is Christ’s birthday what gift will you give Him, the only thing God doesn’t own unless it is given to Him is your soul, the most precious gift of all!

10.  Angels are still calling – the Greek word translated “angel” here literally means simply “messenger”… even a lowly Pastor or Shepherd can be an “angel” in this regard, so consider yourself touched by an angel this morning, will you come and kneel in front of the Christ and give yourself to Him too!?

a.   In fact, if you spread the word to others you will be an “angel” too, a messenger for God, help others to be touched by an angel so they can be really touched by God!

b.   It is up to us to spread the word, Christ has come and all are welcome to come to Him!


CONCLUSION:   Nothing about the first Christmas was serene and joyous like we imagine it, society was desperate, there was no room adequate in the Inn for Joseph and Mary, and even the visit by the angels at first terrified the shepherds because Jews of the day assumed visits by angels were intended to bring judgment!  Yet, something happened, the rejected found regeneration, the light of God broke into the world of darkness.  “Emmanuel” – God IS with us!  Is He with you?