A Sermon by Matt Albritton
Preached at Trinity United Methodist Church, January 2, 2000

Luke 2:8 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 of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ 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, and on earth peace to men 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. (Luke 2:8-20)

Let us pray: Almighty God, draw our hearts to you, guide our minds, fill our imaginations, and control our wills, so that we may be wholly yours, totally dedicated to you. Use us, as you will, always for your glory and the welfare of your people through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

It is wonderful to be here with you this evening. Tammy and I have been so excited about worshipping with you today. We miss the fellowship, the friendships, and our family but we know that God has us where we need to be. As Tammy and I prepared to come home for the Christmas holidays we stayed busy right up to the last day. Tammy was busy wrapping up the presents and I was busy wrapping up my classes. And for the last six months Tammy and I have been slowly adjusting to campus life and learning to cook for two. That hasn't been easy. But let me get to my task for this hour.

Sometimes the true meaning of a word gets lost in the English language and with the passing of time it can be forgotten. Take for instance the word "gospel." We hear it everyday, and some of us have heard it since childhood, yet there are many people who don't know what it means. "Gospel" is a distinctive theme, occurring more than 100 times in the New Testament. This term was embedded in Jesus' preaching from the very beginning. Actually the word "gospel" means "good news."

So the good news that Jesus brings gives us hope for the future and awakens within us a sense of joy. No better news ever came out of heaven than the gospel. No better news ever fell upon human ears than the gospel. And when the angel came down to proclaim the news, what was said to those shepherds on the plains of Bethlehem? "I bring you sad news?" No, I don't think so! "I bring you bad news?" No, not hardly! The angel said, "I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people." The angel's announcement declares that: the time has come "today" for the fulfillment of the prophetic expectation of the Messiah's coming. Micah said He would be born in Bethlehem. Isaiah said He would be born of a virgin and would be called Emmanuel. David and Isaiah told how He would die, and Job prophesied of His resurrection. This is a matter of joy indeed to all people, great joy. The long awaited Messiah had come at last. All of this was written hundreds of years before Christ's birth, but at the appointed time the angels appeared to the shepherds on the hillside, proclaiming they had good news of great joy.

If those shepherds had been like a good many people today, they would have said something like, "We do not believe it is good news. These angels just want to get us all excited and get a revival going or something. And don't you believe it's good news either!"

That's what Satan wants you to believe too. Satan is saying, "Don't you believe the gospel is good news; it will only make you miserable." You'll have to give up all your friends, stop doing all the things you like to do, and stop going to all the places you like to go. You are going to be miserable for the rest of your life and you are going to miss out on all the fun things that life has to offer and all your money is going to be spent on cakes at the church bazaar.

Satan knows that the moment we believe the good news, we receive it into our hearts. And most of us know this to be true. You see these shepherds believed the message that the angel brought, and their hearts were filled with joy and peace. The Good News that Christ brings will fill your hearts with that same joy and peace that the shepherds had.

Three men, who drowned, when their boat capsized one afternoon, wound up in hell. One was a Methodist, one was a Baptist, and the other was one of those positive thinker types. As they were standing around talking, the Methodist said, "I thought I had it but I must have lost it. The Baptist said, "I guess I never really had it" and the positive thinker said, "I'm not in Hell and it is not hot here." You see, Satan loves to tell us lies, so that, we don't believe God can make a permanent difference in our lives, but He can. When we, like the shepherds, receive the good news, believe the good news, then, we will want to spread the word concerning the good news.

Yesterday we celebrated the birth of a new millennium with people all around the world and this is an exciting time to be alive. However, the church of Jesus Christ today has been experiencing a spiritual drought. Multitudes of starving sheep around the world are crying out to their shepherds for some life-giving food, something that will sustain them in these troubled times. Yet all too often they are not given even a scrap of something spiritual! They leave God's house empty, unsatisfied and weak. And they have grown weary of trudging back to an empty table time after time.

This is not what God intended for his people-and it grieves Him to see it. God has provided bread for the whole world. And the bread He offers is more than mere sustenance; it is food for life in the fullest measure-the "abundant life" that Jesus spoke of.

What is this bread of God that we hunger for so desperately? Jesus gave us the answer. He said, "The bread of God is He who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world" (John 6:33). Jesus Himself is the answer to this spiritual drought that the world finds itself in. D. T. Niles says that, "Evangelism is one beggar telling another where to find Bread." In other words we are all beggars in need of bread.

The birth of Jesus was and is God's greatest gift to man. God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. Not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. God so loved the world that he gave his only son and the son so loved the world that he stepped down from his heavenly throne and gave himself to us as an offering. A final and complete offering, the greatest outpouring of love the world has ever seen.

We believe as Christians that there is new life in Christ and the person who participates in this new life experiences freedom from the past and openness to the future. The gift of life is such an exciting event to witness firsthand. I know that many of you have experienced childbirth, and some in this church, quite recently. But whether you are an actual participant or just an innocent bystander there is no escaping the glorious work of God's hand in the creation of new life. And this new life that we have in Christ is marked with growing faith, with hope, with love and the willingness to share this good news with others. The good news of God's love declared in Jesus is a love that enables us to find courage for living and to find the joy in living.

This evening we find in this beautiful story by Doctor Luke that description, which God has given the whole world, of the birth of his son Jesus. It was communicated first to humble shepherds.

Long, long ago when my brothers and I were much smaller we gathered around a Christmas tree in our bathrobes, with a flashlight that represented the baby Jesus and told this story to our parents. And through the years we have laughed and laughed when I described the shepherds as having the most low-down job that anybody could have, a fitting way to describe these humble people. These ordinary people were not held in high esteem. They were not listed in any social register nor were they trying to climb the corporate ladder. Still God revealed to them this announcement of the birth of His son. So does it seem rather strange to you, then that God first brought this message of Jesus' birth to ordinary people like shepherds, rather than to politicians, priests, scribes, or kings? Because this announcement was brought to shepherds its not so surprising then, that this particular event did not cause a great deal of disturbance in the world. But it is an indication of God's desire that the humble people of the world, all people of the world, understand that he had given his son for everybody.

As we have read this evening the announcement was to all people. All people are to benefit in the blessed birth of our Lord Jesus.

So why did God reveal this good news of great joy to ordinary shepherds keeping watch in the fields? Because, like the shepherds in the fields, God meets us in ordinary places and turns them into extraordinary and life changing events. Can you think of a time that God met you in an ordinary place and turned it into an extraordinary event? I can!

In what seemed to be an ordinary place, the angel of the Lord met the shepherds in an extraordinary way to give them a message, which changed their lives forever. First, the angel told them not to be afraid. Time and time again throughout the Bible the presence of angels was frightening to those to whom they came. But unless they came in judgment, the angels would speak a word of reassurance and calm the people. This tells us that the appearance of angels is awe-inspiring; something about them awakens a fear in the human heart.

Can you imagine being in a field at night watching sheep? Of course, you would be enjoying the serenity of the night, the stars brightly shining above, and the sounds of the night would be calming your spirit down after a long day of work. You're probably thinking to yourself, "It just doesn't get any better than this!" Then out of nowhere BAM, the angel of the Lord appears. Your first thought is, "What have I done now"? It's not just the angel that is terrifying you but glory of the Lord, the Shechinah Glory, is shining all around you. This just adds to the confusion, your mind is racing and you're trying to figure it all out, you're saying, "Okay, one minute it was dark and now it's light, man this does not compute." Then the angel tells you, "Do not be afraid." You're thinking to yourself, yea that's easy for you to say. You know you could have just walked up and said, "Hey Bob, don't be afraid, I've got some good news to tell you and you're going to like it."

But the angel represents a presence that carries with it the greatness of God and it sent a chill down the spines of the shepherds. And while we are conscious of our own sin and guilt, it's all together something else when we are confronted with the possibility that this could be a messenger of wrath, which is probably what the shepherds thought when the angel first appeared. So after the angel had calmed the fears of the shepherds, the message was brought.

"I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord." (Luke 2:10,11) So at this point the shepherds have received the good news.

Notice here that the angel does not preach the good news. Rather, the angel witnesses to the good news that the Savior has come. The people needed somebody who could bring them back into fellowship with God. The blood that was being shed in the temple sacrifices could not bring the people back into any permanent relationship with God. But the blood of our Savior Jesus Christ could and can to this day bring us into a permanent relationship with God. Jesus did not come to deliver a gospel, but to be that gospel, himself.

The angelic message was that God had come, redemption was possible, and the Lord had visited His people to offer salvation. The gospel does not introduce an idea but a person--"we proclaim him" (Col. 1:28) Jesus Christ!

Then the angel gave the shepherds a sign: "You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Things seem to be winding down and the shepherds are starting to feel safe again. "Suddenly" out of nowhere, "a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

The shepherds must have thought they were on some kind of emotional roller coaster at this point. First, everything was quiet out on the pastureland near Bethlehem when the first angel showed up. Then just as the shepherds are re-grouping a whole flock of angels show up. It would be like the Mormon Tabernacle Choir jumping out from behind your Christmas tree singing the Hallelujah chorus from Handel's Messiah. But suddenly often describes the unexpected nature of God's acts. Malachi had predicted the sudden coming of the Lord to his temple. Now the angels suddenly announce his arrival at Bethlehem.

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.

We see in these verses that the shepherd's lives were changed forever because now the shepherds believed the good news. They are seeing God in a new way. They are not running off saying look what the angel said, but look what God has said to us.

It was obvious to the shepherds that it was God speaking to them through the angels. It was no longer business as usual because their priorities have changed.

They had left their sheep in the mountains and began looking for the sign that the angel had told them about. I don't think it took much convincing to get these shepherds moving towards Bethlehem, after all there had been rumors of the Messiah's return but I don't think the shepherds figured He was going to show up in their backyard. So they hurried off to find the baby Jesus.

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.

When the shepherds realized what the angel had told them was true, they spread the word, concerning the good news. This was God's plan all along for the shepherds to spread the word and this is God `s plan for us to spread the word, to share this good news of great joy. Christ himself told us, "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations". But you may feel like the early disciples did, who me? They did not believe that they could do the things that Jesus had done. However, we find out later, in Acts that they were able to carry on where Jesus had left off. Jesus is asking you and me to do the same thing that he asked the disciples to do. But it will not be easy, and if you try to do it in your own strength you will fail. Peter tells us, "Do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice that you participate in the suffering of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed." And if you keep your eyes on Jesus and allow His strength and His power to be made manifest in you, then you will be able to do even greater things. Jesus, himself, gives us our marching orders, He tells us in the New Testament of these four Marks of Discipleship.

The first is in John 13: verses 34-35 "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love another. " But you know as well as I do that it is not always easy to love when people do cruel things to you or say harsh words against you. When people are mean to us, we have to love them in spite of themselves. Also, to love someone is to accept them the way they are and with all the faults and frailties that go along with them. There has only been one perfect person ever to walk the face of this earth. But we should try to be like Him.

Secondly, Jesus tells us in John 8: verses 31-32 "If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." Jesus is the truth and if you know Him He will set you free. Truth is abstract but Jesus is real and tangible and when we read God's word we find in it the teachings that we need to hold on to, if we are to be His disciples.

Thirdly, in Luke 14: verse 27 it says that, "And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." We are called to bear our own CROSS, Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in his book, The Cost Of Discipleship, "To go one's way under the sign of the cross is not misery and desperation, but peace and refreshment for the soul, it is the highest joy. Then we do not walk under our self-made laws and burdens, but under the yoke of him who knows us and who walks under the yoke with us. Under his yoke we are certain of his nearness and communion. "Have you ever been by yourself, all alone with no one to talk to? What a miserable feeling that would be if Jesus wasn't there? But we need to remember, that Jesus is with us always, that's a promise!

Lastly, in John 15: verse 8 we read, "This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples." When we hold to the other three Marks of Discipleship we cannot help but bear much fruit and this is how we can know that others are truly disciples of Jesus by the fruit they bear.

In our last verse this evening we read that, "The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told."

We see in this last verse that the shepherds did not change jobs or go into a different line of business. Although many people have been called into different vocations after encountering Jesus. The shepherds were back to shepherding the next morning, business as usual, but visibly changed. They were glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen. That's what God wants you to do--glorify Him and praise Him, where you are. Jesus said, "I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. If I glorify myself, my glory means nothing. My Father, whom you claim as your God, is the one who glorifies me." And if you receive the good news and believe the good news, then you will want to spread the word, concerning the good news, about what Jesus has done in your life.

So who will you share this good news with first?

Surely these persons:
a. Members of your family
b. Co-workers
c. Your pastor
d. Other Christian friends
e. Even strangers

It is obvious now after 2000 years that this is God's plan for salvation. David Livingston after burying his wife on the mission fields of Africa said to his associates, "Let's get on with the task." And I say to you tonight let us get on with the task! The task of spreading the Good News! Praise God that we are living in this time!

We have chosen as our final hymn, "The Savior is waiting." The Savior may be waiting for you to let him enter your heart and save you from your sins or if you are already saved he may be waiting for you to take more earnestly the idea of sharing the good news with someone this year. As we sing open your hearts to the Master and let him in.

Matt is a student at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky. His e-mail address is: