BACKGROUND - LUKE 2:8-14; TEXT - LUKE 2:10,11
The Christmas story is a familiar story. Songs and carols and television shows and Christmas pageants offer us familiar images of the Nativity - Joseph leading a donkey bearing his very pregnant wife to the town of Bethlehem to take part in a census ordered by the Roman government and being unable to find a room in a very crowded small town, Joseph and Mary seeking refuge in a stable, Mary having her child, her first born son in that stable and using a bin designed to hold feed for the animals as his first bassinet.
The Christmas story is a familiar story that includes images of Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus in the manger surrounded by animals and sometimes in the company of wise men who very likely really arrived two or three years later, but itís worth remembering that something else miraculous happened that night.
After describing the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, Luke takes us out to the Judean hills to what would have been a familiar scene for those who first read his gospel. Luke says that there were shepherds out there that night keeping an eye on their sheep. Shepherds werenít exactly what one would call the "upper class." They were poor men hired by the wealthy to take care of their sheep day and night, and if you spend all day and night with sheep then you donít look or smell the way that polite society says that you should. Shepherds were humble, impoverished men doing what many would refuse to do, but out there in the Judean hills on that night 2,000 years ago, those shepherds got a blessing that those in the temple and in the king's palace in Jerusalem did not receive.
Those shepherds looked around and realized that the night was brighter that usual, and they soon saw why, they saw an angel that lit up the night, an angel who cut through their understandable fear and dread at seeing him and told them, "donít be afraid, Iím not going to hurt you, I've got good news for you, Iíve brought glad tidings of great joy."
The angel said, "Down the hill in the town of Bethlehem, a baby has been born. He is the Christ, he is the Lord, he is your savior. Youíll find him down there wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a feed bin." Luke says that when the shepherds got that news and then saw and heard a choir of angels praising God, they left their sheep, forgot about their jobs, and went to find that baby, went to find their savior.
Remember those shepherds in this Christmas season. What you find under your tree may be nice, your dinner or your party may go off without a hitch, your decorations may look just right, but thatís not the real blessing of Christmas.
Christmas traditions are good, but the real blessing of Christmas is knowing that the God of all, allowed himself to come into this world in human form to live as we live and suffer as we suffer and die as we die and then claim his life back again so that we could have forgiveness of sin, so that we could have everlasting life, so that we could have a savior.
The blessing of the day is the same now as it was when the angels spoke to those shepherds in the Judean hills 2,000 years ago. We have a savior and because we do we can find hope, we can find peace, we can find strength, we can find joy, all of the signs and symbols of the day are good, but the real blessing is that because of Jesus, we have a savior!
The angel that visited those shepherds on the Judean hills told them, "Tonight, you have a savior." The first announcement of the birth of the king of glory was made not to King Herod or to Guirinius, the Roman governor or to the religious leaders of Israel, but to shepherds, to those that the powers that be would not even give the time of day.
You have a savior, regardless of who you are or where youíre from. It doesnít matter where or whether you went to school, it doesnít matter where you work or how well off you are, it doesnít matter who you know or what circles you travel in, it doesnít matter what church you attend or how long youíve been a member. You can look beyond who you are and what youíve got and what people say about you and know and realize that this world can flip on you in a minute and you can lose it all tomorrow but the Lord Jesus said, "I will never leave you nor forsake you," that the Lord Jesus said, "Lo I am with you always, even to the end of the age, you have a savior!"
When you know that you have a savior, then you can do more than play big time. You can use your education to tell others about Jesus, use your position and your resources to equip the church to carry the good news, use your connections to help those who have no connections, work in the church to see that the good news goes to those who are down and out. The life you live will tell others not about who you are or what you have, but tell others what the Lord Jesus has done for you and testify with the writer, "there is no secret what God can do!"
The angel that visited those shepherds on the Judean hills told them, "Tonight, you have a savior." When the shepherds heard that good news they left their sheep, their income, their paycheck out there in the hills and hurried down to Bethlehem to find their savior. They put Christ ahead of all that mattered to them.
When you know that you have a savior, youíll put Christ first, and thatís not easy for us to do. Too often we say, "Jesus, youíre my savior," but we only think about Jesus from 11:00 to 1:00 on Sunday, get mad if the Lord Jesus doesnít fix who we want fixed and try to place our will above Godís will.
If weíre not careful, then the church becomes not the house of the living God but just another social club that works on tradition and operates by human rules where we call the shots and dictate who does and does not get in and who gets to work because we like to call the Lord Jesus our savior but only when we can set the terms, we have to listen to the words of the savior, stop just saying, "Lord, Lord" and do the will of our Father in heaven!
When we let the spirit of the savior anoint us, then we can change and the church can change. Weíll praise the savior on Sunday and live for the savior every day, serve the Lord not on our terms, but on Godís terms, go beyond likes and dislikes and having our way and let the holy ghost have his way.
When we let the holy ghost live in us, then we can serve our savior and change lives and rescue the perishing and reach out to the lost and stand up for those who canít stand for themselves because weíll look beyond self, see what the savior has done, and tell those who need a little good news, "He brought me out of the darkness, into the marvelous light, look where he brought me from".
The angel told those humble shepherds in the Judean hills, "Today in Bethlehem, in the ancestral home of King David, a savior has been born to you. He is the Christ, he is the Lord," you have a savior. You may not have all the money or things that youíd like to have, you may not have all the notoriety or honor that youíd like to have, but when you know the Lord Jesus, you can reach beyond the demands and accolades of this world and say as did those who wore the chains of American slavery, "Jesus made me what I am, nothing but a child of God, you have a savior!"
When you know it, then you can do what those shepherds did. They found Mary and Joseph and the baby and returned to their flocks praising the Lord. When you know that you have a savior, then, hallelujah, you can praise the Lord, the life you live will tell somebody, "Heís sweet I know, Heís sweet I know, storm clouds may rise and strong winds may blow, but Iíll tell the world wherever I go that Iíve found a savior and Heís sweet I know!"
Rev. Joseph A. Darby is Senior Pastor of Morris
Brown African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Charleston, South Carolina.
He and his wife Mary, have two sons. Rev. Darby is a graduate of the University
of South Carolina and the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary. A fourth
generation minister in the AME Church, Rev. Darby pastor's the largest congregation
in the Seventh Episcopal District of the AME Church.
Rev. Darby is very active in Charleston serving as a Board Member for the Reid House of Christian Service organization and on the Family Court of the Ninth Judicial Circuit's Drug Court Program. He is a member of the State Superintendent of Education's African-American Achievement Committee, First Vice President of the South Carolina Conference of the NAACP and Chairman of the PASTORS Housing Initiative.
In the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Rev. Darby serves as a Church Coordinator of the Sons of Allen Men's Fellowship, Registrar for the Board of Ministerial Training for the Palmetto Annual Conference of the AME Church and member of the General Board of the AME Church.
Rev. Darby is a former Religion Writer for the Carolina Tribune and a frequent contributor to many newspapers.
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