It’s easy at this time of the year to read the Christmas story and get lost in the sentiment of the season. It’s easy to read the accounts of the birth of Christ and feel nostalgic about our memories of Christmas. That’s not necessarily wrong, but the Christmas story should make us feel more than simply nostalgic. As we meditate on these passages we should be filled with wonder and awe with what is one of the most important events in the history of our world. We should be amazed as we read of the unfolding of God’s plan and that you and I are a part of His plan and are directly impacted by the Advent.
This week I’ve spent my time reading Luke 2 specifically the first 20 verses. Several things have struck me about the passage, and in particular one of the things that I found intriguing is the various reactions to the announcement that the Son of God had been born.
Luke was something of an historian and like any good historian he provides the significant details of the piece of history he is recounting. One of my favorite authors is David McCullough and he has the uncanny ability of making history come alive, and he primarily does it through the characters who were a part of the history he is describing. In this passage that is what Luke does he introduces us to several different characters that have meaning to the event that he is relaying.
Someone once said that history is the unfolding of HIS story, meaning history is the unveiling of God’s eternal plan. That really is the backdrop against which we should read and understand these verses. The invisible hand of God was at work arranging the right people in the right places at the right time in order to bring the right person – Jesus Christ into the world.
That’s a great truth, the providence of God is a truth that creates comfort and confidence in us as we realize that God is at work in our lives, in our relationships and our circumstances and He is using even what we may consider to be insignificant events of our lives to help us to become like the One he loves the most – Jesus Christ.
An instance of God’s unseen hand at work is the census for the purpose of taxation that was decreed by Cesar Augustus. I find it interesting that Luke chooses to use the word “decree”. That’s a word that isn’t used very frequently, and many times when it is used it is used in relation to royalty, it is used by someone with great power such as a king or in this case Cesar.
Cesar may have thought the his decree was his idea. Perhaps he had huddled with his trusted counselors or advisers or with the Roman Senate and collectively they came up with what they thought was a good idea. To have Cesar issue this decree to raise money for the government. But behind Cesar’s decree was the eternal decree of God.
What is a decree? Wayne Grudem defines God’s decree as A decree of God is a word of God that causes something to happen. That means that before Cesar came up with his plan, his plan had already been a part of God’s plan. God simply used Cesar the man in power at that time in that place to carry out what God had from eternity past determined to do.
As we look at the world around us it’s easy to feel like things are spiraling out of control. The financial markets are all waiting to see what is going to happen to the Euro and will that form of currency collapse and what kind of chaos will ensue. Mankind may be worried about that, but God isn’t. He knows what is going to happen.
The first character that Luke introduces us too is Caesar Augustus. He is on the surface the most powerful and important person in the story. Then Luke moves on to a lesser power, but still a somewhat powerful person the form of the Governor of Syria a man by the name of Quirininus. Next we are introduced to Joseph, obviously he is important for several reasons. One of which is Luke’s detail that Joseph was in the house and the lineage of David. Joseph was a descendant of the great King David. And it was through this royal bloodline that God the Father had promised to send His Son. Next is Mary the mother of Jesus. She was a woman, a very young woman, a very young woman who was pregnant. All of these factors combined to make her the lowliest of characters in the story. Then after Mary we Luke introduces us to the Shepherds. The Shepherds were not looked upon favorably by anybody except their own families. They lived in the fields for months at a time with those dirty stinky sheep which did not make them desirable dinner companions.
What do we have here? We really have a nice sampling of the human race. We have the haves and the have nots. We have the rich and we have the poor. We have the working stiff and the working stiffs that stunk! We have royalty and the commoner. Each one whether they realized it or not were going to be impacted for all eternity by the events that Luke is about to describe to us. But not only were they going to be impacted, you are going to be impacted and I’m going to be impacted and every person who ever lived will be impacted by the events of this night.
What were the reactions to the events that Luke described?
Let’s start with the Shepherds. You’ve probably heard that they weren’t look upon very favorably in their culture. They spent months at a time out in the fields with the sheep and they were known for sometimes being less than desirable characters who were not above stealing sheep from another flock if the opportunity presented itself. There are many who believe that the sheep that these Shepherds were tending to were the Sheep that would be offered at the Temple for a sacrifice.
Yet it was to the Shepherds that God decided to make the announcement of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords to. And God knows how to make an announcement. He sent as Luke describes him as “an angel of the Lord” some commentators believe that this may have been the angel Gabriel who appeared to the Shepherds.
Now Gabriel didn’t stroll up leisurely to the Shepherds and ask what’s up! Oh know, he burst upon the scene surrounded by and swallowed up by the Glory of Lord. The Glory of the Lord is always represented in Scripture as a very bright light, as a very intense light. The Glory of the Lord is a blinding white hot light.
This is what the Shepherds are confronted with. One moment they are engulfed in the darkness of night the next moment they are blinded by the glory of God with an angel standing in front of them.
How would you react to this? I’d be tempted to run, to look for a place to hide, to find the fattest sheep with the thickest fur and get behind it. I would be scared out of my sandals! And guess what that’s exactly what happened to them. The Bible says that they were filled with great fear! They were not simply a little shook up, they were overcome with fear. And why shouldn’t they be. The glory of the Lord and an angel of the Lord were right in front of them. And if that isn’t scary enough the angel begins to talk to them. The first thing that angel tells them is to not be afraid. Fear not! Ok, let me work on that for a second will you? But the angel has an important message to deliver and so he wants them to be in a state that they could comprehend what he has to tell them.
What does he tell them? He delivers the news that a baby has been born, but this is not just any baby. The angel describes this baby as “Christ the Lord”. And they can find Christ the Lord laying in a manager and he will be not be in robes of royalty he will be wrapped in strips of cloth.
Just when the Shepherds think they are out of danger zone, the lone angel is joined by a multitude of the heavenly hosts and they begin praising God! Let’s just try and imagine this scene. Just a few moments before they were watching over their sheep, minding their own business. And all heaven breaks loose on them! Can you imagine the shock to the senses? Blinding light, a voice and then a huge choir breaks out in praise to God! Can you imagine all of that happening? It’s absolutely incredible! It’s awe inspiring, it’s amazing!
The first reaction was fear. At that time that was the right reaction. But what I find to be absolutely fascinating is what they did next. They apparently and without lingering headed to Bethlehem. They didn’t stand around and talk about the angel or the light or the choir. No the thing that moved them to action was the baby! The thing that got them moving was the announcement of the birth of the King of Kings and Lord or Lords! They wanted to see if it was true that Christ the Lord had indeed been born! They wanted to know if what they had heard was true!
This wasn’t a moment of nostalgia for them, this wasn’t a moment of warm feelings and happy memories it was the announcement that God had come in the flesh! That’s what the important thing was! Christ had come. Joy to the world the Lord has come, let earth receive her King!
Though this is obvious what was the source of their joy? The source of their joy was not just in the announcement, but in the announcement of the One who had come. Their joy was rooted in the person of Christ. The lesson is equally obvious, if we truly want to experience joy in our lives the joy will only come from the person of Christ.
Particularly at this time of year people want to experience joy but many times the season turns out to be less than joyful! Why is that? Because they are trying to find joy in all the wrong places, they are trying to find joy in a season, in an event rather than in the person of Jesus Christ.
But what about Mary? How did she react to these other worldly events? Let’s look at verse 19
“But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19 ESV)
Let’s contrast her reaction to the reaction of others who heard the same message that the Shepherds delivered.
“And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.” (Luke 2:18 ESV)
The others wondered, but Mary treasured. The others wondered but Mary pondered.
Isn’t it funny how different people can hear the same message and have completely different reactions? Sometimes good news for us is bad news for another. Two people have applied for the same job, one is hired and one is not. The one who was hired rejoices, the one who wasn’t despairs.
But what about the times that the message is good news for everyone? Wouldn’t you think that everyone would have the same reaction? Apparently not. Consider the announcement of the birth of Christ.
The angel of the Lord appeared to the Shepherds as they are watching over their flocks. The angel announces that on this very day the Savior has been been born! Now the angel prefaced the announcement by saying “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” (Luke 2:10 ESV) Did you catch that last part? The angel said he was bringing good news of great joy that will be for ALL the people. Shouldn’t everyone have reacted in a similar way considering it was good news?
The announcement of the good news caused the Shepherds to leave their flocks and make the short trip to Bethlehem to find the baby that was the subject of the good news. When they arrived in Bethlehem they relayed what they had heard from the angel. But noticed how Luke describes the different reactions to the news. Luke says “And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.” The word wondered means “to be amazed, to marvel”. The reaction was something along the lines of “Wow isn’t that something!” or “Wow that’s an amazing story shepherds!” I get the feeling that it was just another news item to some. Interesting news, but let’s move on now.
That is the reaction that many today still have when they are told the good news of the Gospel. “That’s a nice story, and I’m glad it works for you but…” Many hear, but they don’t really hear.
But notice the reaction of Mary. Mary the new young mother takes all of this in. She listens intently to the Shepherds as they recount exactly what the angel said, she hears them say that the angel told them that on this very day, the day she has given birth to her little boy that the Savior has been born!
What was her reaction? Luke makes a clear distinction between her reaction and the reaction of the others. Luke says “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” The word treasured means “to keep close, to preserve”. It was a good thing that she treasured these words, because in the coming days she was going to need these words. In the dark days that lay ahead for Mary she will be able to draw strength and comfort and meaning from the words of the Shepherds!
Mary kept the words of the angel close to her. I wonder did she memorize those words? Was there ever a time in her life that she forgot the words of the angel? As she watched her Son die on the cross did she remind herself that her Son was Christ the Lord? As she watched the life of her Son slowly ebb away was she comforted by those words she had heard some thirty years ago that unto her the Savior had been born? There is a reason for my Son’s death the angel said He was born to be the Savior of the world!
But she did more than just treasure these words, Luke said she pondered them. She was actively considering what she had heard. I’m sure she was pondering the words of the angel when he had appeared to her some nine months earlier and told her that she had found favor with God and that she was going to have a child and this child was the Son of the Most High God and was going to reign over the house of Jacob and he would have a kingdom of which there would be no end.
I doubt from what Mary knew at that time that she could put all of the pieces together. At this point in her life she was simply trying to make sense of what is happening to her and through her.
Mary was thinking all of this information through, maybe even trying to put the pieces together, to make sense of it all. But one thing is clear, she treated the Word of the Lord from the angel of the Lord as something to be treasured, as something that was worthy of some concentrated thought.
Don’t you think that later in life she was able to draw strength from what she had treasured and what she had pondered in heart so many years ago?
The lesson for us is obvious meditation on the word of God is never wasted, even though you may not be able to make sense out of what is happening in your life right now, in the coming days and maybe even in the coming years those words will become extremely valuable to you.
Do you treasure the Word of the Lord? Do you daily take the time to ponder what God is saying to us in His Word? Is the Word of the Lord precious to us?[/sws_author_bio_ui]