First Mennonite Church
December 25, 2022
The Meaning of Christmas: Let’s Go to Bethlehem
Text: Luke 2: 1-20
Christmas is the only holiday with a religious background that most people celebrate. Even those who hardly visit a church, celebrate Christmas in their own ways.
In the 1965 movie “A Charlie Brown Christmas” Charlie is frustrated at the materialism attached to Christmas. To brighten up Charlie, Lucy asks him to direct their school Christmas pageant. When everything goes wrong, especially with the chaos the ensued during practice and the unfit Christmas tree, Charlie’s frustration only grows. Then Linus takes to the stage and declaims Luke’s story of the birth of Jesus from the KJV. Then he casually says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”
In today’s passage Luke tells us the simple, yet marvelous story of the birth of Jesus. Historians may not agree with Luke’s dating of his story, based on some of the historical figures and events mentioned there. But you might still remember that I said Luke wrote a gospel, not history. Besides, there is not debate regarding the birth of Jesus as an historical event.
Our calendars mark today as Christmas Day. At this hour, much of what many people expected for this holiday, has already taken place. Decorations went up soon after Thanksgiving; the shopping and gifting is over. Some may have already unwrapped their gifts by now. Some had their Christmas dinners last night. Therefore, for many Christmas is almost over for this year.
Today, I would like for us to briefly reflect on the response of the shepherds to the message the angel gave them. So let us read once again verses eight to 20.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
The angel’s message was that a child had been born. He was supposed to be the cause of great joy for all the people. He is the Savior, Messiah, and the Lord.
The angel’s appearance to the shepherds interrupted them from their duties. Shepherds were at the lowest rung of the social ladder in those days. They were considered filthy, untrustworthy to the point that their testimony was not admissible in court. It is to a group of such people that the angels came to tell about the birth of baby Jesus.
I just wonder: this year Christmas Day falling on a Sunday may interrupted the holiday plans for some. For one, our family would have gone to visit family in LA, had not been that we have church service today. The shepherds were interrupted by the angels announcing to them the news of the birth of a special child.
And that is what happens when God reveals himself to us. He interrupts our lives. He changes our priorities. He sometimes leads us into a different path in life. Above all, he changes the focus of our lives, from one set on us to one set on him.
The message the angels gave was in essence the good news (the gospel) of God to the world. The baby just born was called “Savior, Messiah, and Lord.” Even the shepherds knew that these titles were reserved only for Yahweh, the God of Israel. This is the God who in Israel’s Holy Scriptures is described as the Eternal, Creator, Liberator, Almighty, Righteous, and Holy God. Every aspect about this announcement is shocking. From the very idea that the identity of the baby is equaled to the Most High God to the location where the baby has been born, everything seems out of place.
The ways of God’s working in reaching out to us humans might often seem like a contradiction according to our reasoning. The El Shaddai, the Lord Almighty in baby form? The Elyon, the Most High God laying in a manger? The apostle Paul speaks of that contradiction even reflected in Jesus at his death. The message of Jesus, dying on a cross as God’s way for our salvation is a troublesome message to human reasoning. It is foolishness to some and a stumbling block to others, says Paul (1Corinthians 1:23) But for those who are saved, the message of Jesus dying on the cross is the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Therefore, the angelic message to shepherds must have sounded contradictory and stirred their hearts; thus, they said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
In most translations of first part of verse 15 reads: When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, . . .” However, this last phrase should read, “the shepherds kept telling one another, ‘Let us go to Bethlehem and see . . ..’” At the news of the angels, the shepherds kept urging themselves to verify the events as given to them. They encouraged one another until they finally left everything and went to Bethlehem.
Christmas is indeed a very popular holiday. However, not everyone who celebrates it understands its true meaning.
The message that God was coming in the form of a baby, born to lowly parents, in the humblest of all places, and within the most inconvenient of circumstances, reveals God’s unmeasurable desire to connect, not only with his people, but with the entire world. It is a message of great joy to all people, said the angel. However, it is a message that might interrupt our lives completely. It is a message that also calls for personal and decisive action. We must have the desire to inquire for ourselves about the goodness there is in that event.
Therefore, the invitation to us is, let’s give God a try. Let us ask God to speak to our heart or maybe, let us ask him to open our ears discern his voice because he has already been speaking to us. Let us allow God to guide our path in life. Let us trust our lives into his hands. Let us dare go to Bethlehem to see the Savior, Messiah, and Lord.
And one more thing, after we discover Jesus, let us do as the shepherds did. “They spread the word concerning what they had seen about the child and returned to their work “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.”
As we close the service this morning, let us make of the words of our last hymn for today the heartfelt expression of our faith in the One who was born, so humbly, yet was God in the flesh, reaching out to us. Amen!