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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at Combined Christmas Eve Praise service, 2016-12-24

Text: Luke 2:8-20

One night about 2,016 years ago, a very significant event took place in the land of Israel. This event was to have a far-reaching impact upon the whole world for ages to come. Outwardly, this event seemed to be merely an ordinary birth of a child in Bethlehem. In fact, as His first cries were heard in the quietness of the night, the rest of the world continued to go on in its usual business. Hardly anyone knew about the great significance of this event. The Almighty God, the Creator of all things was entering into this world as a human being, so that He might reconcile sinners like us back to Himself.

I. The Response of the World

Today, that event has become the focus of the world’s attention each year, not so much for its significance but for all the festivities that accompany its celebration. Everyone looks forward to it – not just the children, but even adults. It is a fact that Christmas has become a worldwide event. It is celebrated in a very big way even in some of the most unexpected places. There are Christmas celebrations in Japan, China, Mongolia, Moscow, Istanbul, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran. In every place there are decorations, glittering lights, Santa Clauses, Reindeer, Snowmen, and Christmas trees. There is much spending on Christmas shopping and much feasting on Christmas cakes and candy. Christmas Carols can be heard everywhere, and they are sung by Christians and non-Christians alike.

The celebrations are getting bigger and better every year. But in the midst of it all, the most important person is left out: Jesus Christ! The world today celebrates a Christmas without Christ. Millions of people will be partying and enjoying themselves especially tonight, on Christmas Eve. This is certainly not a “Silent Night” anymore. And most of the celebrations are promoted purely for commercial reasons – because there is big money to be made at every Christmas season! Should we join hands with the world in its celebration of Christmas? Should we involve ourselves in all the Christmas parties and revelry that goes on? If we do, are we not endorsing its replacement of Christ with commercialism?

Well, there are some who say that Christians should not celebrate Christmas at all. There is no mention in the Scriptures that Christ’s birth should be celebrated. There is no Bible verse that dates his birth on the 25th day of December. It is suggested that His birthdate is more likely to be in September. Some have claimed that the 25th of December was originally celebrated as the birthday of the sun-god (Sol Invictus) in a pagan winter festival of the Roman Empire. Then when Christianity became the state religion of Rome in AD 380, this pagan festival was conveniently transformed into Christmas!

In spite of all these, there are compelling reasons why it is good for us to celebrate the birth of our Saviour. One reason is that as early as AD 98, Christians already set aside a day to commemorate the birth of Christ. This became a tradition of the early church some forty years later. In AD 137 Telesphorus, one of the early bishops of Rome, gave this injunction: “…that in the holy night of the Nativity of our Lord and Saviour, they do celebrate public church services, and in them solemnly sing the Angels’ Hymn, because also the same night he was declared unto the shepherds by an angel, as the truth itself doth witness.” Later on, in AD 180 Bishop Theophilus of Caesarea, recommended “the celebration of the birthday of Our Lord, on what day soever the 25th of December shall happen.”

All of this happened when Christianity was still a persecuted religion. And hence it was before the time when pagan elements started to infiltrate the church. It was only after the Church of Rome had gained power in the 4th and 5th centuries that pagan practices were introduced into the church.

The bottom line is this: We should not reject the annual Christian commemoration of the birth of Jesus Christ, since it is a good tradition which dates right back to the early church. And although the meaning of Christmas has been somewhat obscured by commercial activities, most people know that it has something to do with our Lord Jesus Christ. This gives us a unique opportunity to tell them about the significance of His birth to our salvation.

George Whitefield (1714-1770), the great 18th Century revivalist, once preached a message entitled, “The True Way of Keeping Christmas.” This is what he said,  “What, shall we not remember the birth of our Jesus? Shall we yearly celebrate the birth of our temporal king, and shall that of the King of kings be quite forgotten? Shall that only, which ought to be had chiefly in remembrance, be quite forgotten? God forbid! No, my dear brethren, let us celebrate and keep this festival of our church, with joy in our hearts: let the birth of a Redeemer, which redeemed us from sin, from wrath, from death, from hell, be always remembered; may this Saviour’s love never be forgotten! But may we sing forth all His love and glory as long as life shall last here, and through an endless eternity in the world above!”

Surely there is very good reason then, for us to be here tonight to celebrate the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. And we shall do this by meditating upon…

II. The Response of the Shepherds

On the night when Christ was born, while everyone was fast asleep a group of men were out in the fields of Bethlehem. They were poor shepherds keeping watch over their flocks by night. And it was to these shepherds that the news of Christ’s birth came in a most spectacular way. The whole sky was illuminated with multitudes of angels. They were praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.” (v.14)

Perhaps you may wonder: “Why was such a grand birth announcement made to lowly shepherds?” When someone as important as the Messiah of Israel is born shouldn’t the leaders of Israel be the first to know about it? So why didn’t the angels make their announcement to the authorities in Jerusalem rather than to lowly shepherds? And why did they announce it only to these particular shepherds? There were probably shepherds in many other fields in Israel watching their flocks that night. Could there have been some special reason why God chose these shepherds of Bethlehem to receive this good news?

Alfred Edersheim has provided some insight on this: There was a place just outside Bethlehem called Migdal Eder which means “the tower of the flock.” According to Edersheim, this tower “…was not the watchtower for the ordinary flocks which pastured on the barren sheepground beyond Bethlehem, but lay close to the town, on the road to Jerusalem. …the flocks, which pastured there, were destined for Temple-sacrifices.” The shepherds who watched over these sheep and lambs knew that they would one end up being sacrificed to atone for the sins of Israel. This must have constantly reminded them of their own need to be saved from sin and from eternal death. Hence they would most gladly welcome the news of the Saviour’s birth as given by the angel in vv.10,11 – “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”

How thrilled these shepherds must have been to know that God has just provided the ultimate Lamb to take away the sins of the world. And this newborn Saviour would grow up to become the Good Shepherd who would lay down His own life for His sheep. And now we will learn three lessons from what these shepherds did just after they heard the news of Christ’s birth. This is recorded in verse 15: “And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass.”

A. Their Excitement to See the Saviour

There was a complete change upon their faces after receiving the announcement. According to verse 9, they had been sore afraid only a while before this, when they saw the angels and the glory of the Lord. But when the impact of the message was felt, their fear was changed into joy. The long-awaited Messiah of Israel had finally come! Perhaps they were also thinking to themselves, “Can this really be true? Has the Lord really sent the Saviour as He had said?” The shepherds could not wait to find out. Even though all was still dark, they could not wait for morning to come. They said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see Him!” According to v.16 they came with haste. Can you sense their great excitement over the news of Christ’s birth?

So, here is the first lesson we can learn from this response of the shepherds: Our hearts should be filled with a sense of awe and excitement whenever we think of our Saviour’s birth. The people of the world get all excited about Christmas. But what is their excitement all about? It is only about the food, fun and festivities of the season. We who are saved have every reason to be excited at Christmas: Think of God’s wonderful love for us in giving His only begotten Son to save us from sin and eternal death. The Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ should make us just as excited as the shepherds were to go and see Him! That’s the first way we should respond to this news.

B. Their Eagerness to Share the Good News

The second way we should respond is the way that the shepherds responded when they had seen the Saviour lying in the manger. Let us read vv.16-17 –“And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.” You will notice that the shepherds did not keep the news all to themselves. They went forth spontaneously to share it with others. They did not need anyone to tell them to do this. They just wanted others to share their joy.

In the same way, we too should be spontaneous in making the good news of salvation known to others. If there is so much joy in being saved how can we keep this news all to ourselves? Should we not be eager to share it with others? 

As these shepherds went out to tell people about what they had just seen and heard, they unknowingly became the very first evangelists of our Lord Jesus. Through them, many others began to wonder at the good news. As verse 18 says, “And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.” And perhaps some of them also came to see Christ for themselves. Although these men were only lowly shepherds, they became effective instruments that God could use.

Let us learn an important lesson from this: God can use every one of us as effective instruments no matter what our station in life may be. No one is too insignificant to be used of God. Let each of us consider tonight how we can be used of God to bring His blessings into the lives of others.

C. Their Enthusiasm to Sound Forth God’s Praise

Now we come to the third way in which the shepherds responded. It is found in v.20 – “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.” Praise should always be our ultimate response to the birth of Christ. You cannot just be happy that God has been so gracious to you. You must express your heartfelt gratitude and thanks to Him. You must glorify Him and praise Him for all that He has done.

As we remember the birth of our Lord Jesus this year, let our hearts be filled with worship and adoration for the wonderful work that God has done both in this world as well as in our own lives. Let our carols be sung not just with our lips, but with our hearts, to praise God the way that the shepherds did.

Tonight you have seen how the shepherds of Bethlehem responded to the birth of Christ. What then is your response to the birth of Christ? Please don’t be distracted by all the merry-making, all the bright lights and decorations, the Christmas trees and Santa Clauses, the Christmas presents and endless parties. That joy of celebrating Christmas will last only for a day. It will soon vanish and be forgotten in a few days’ time.

But the joy of knowing Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour will last forever. The joy of realizing how much Jesus loves us is a profound joy! He loved us so much that He was willing to take our human nature upon Himself and be born into this sinful world. And through this wonderful act of love, we are now saved from sin and death to live forever as God’s children. This joy is just too great for words! If you have never known this joy, I urge you to find it here tonight: Come right now to Jesus Christ, in full repentance of your sins. Put your trust in Him. Give your heart to Him and be cleansed by the blood that He shed upon the cross. He will save you. Come and receive Him into your heart today. May the joy of knowing Christ as your Saviour be the best Christmas gift that you will ever receive!

 
 
 
 

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25