Christmas can be a very tough time for those who have lost loved ones. That empty chair at the Dinner table is a sad reminder of happier times and the flood of memories from Christmases past makes the day a little harder to bear. This week we attended a funeral of a friend and then this morning we got the call that a family member had just passed. So this verse is very special this Christmas Day, for there is always hope in Jesus…and though sorrow and loss come into all our lives and we sit in the darkness created by them…we have assurance that we can rise on the wings of hope into His blessed light.
“For your Maker is your husband – the Lord Almighty is His name.” (Isaiah 54:5) For over sixty years this was the Scripture the widow Anna clung to…a unbreakable covenant tie of love and loyalty when there was no one else. She was a well recognized and respected fixture at the Temple, for it says she never left but worshiped night and day. And like Simeon, she was longing to see the promised Messiah. So on that day when Mary and Joseph presented the baby Jesus in the Temple, Anna knew this wasn’t any ordinary child…for this was the fulfillment of prophecy. And she was one of the first to publicly announce that the Messiah had come.
As was the Jewish custom, Mary and Joseph brought baby Jesus to the Temple on the 8th day in order to present Him to the Lord. Now Simeon was a very elderly Jew who had devoutly waited his entire lifetime to catch a glimpse of the Messiah. It says that the Holy Spirit had revealed to him that he would not die before seeing this wondrous site. Do you think the Holy Spirit whispered to him that morning, “Today is the day, Simeon…today you will come face to face with your promised Savior!” I can only imagine Simeon’s excitement as he watched the crowds entering the Temple…”Is that Him? Is that Him?” And when the Holy Spirit nudged him, do you think he was astounded to see a tiny baby? Simeon then gently gathered Jesus in his arms and looked heavenward, tears streaming down his face, as he proclaimed, “Sovereign Lord, as You have promised, now dismiss Your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen Your salvation, which You have prepared in the sight of all people, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to Your people Israel.” (Luke 2:29-32)
Due to the census, all the places for weary travelers to lodge were full. I wonder if the Inn Keeper, in a attempt to appease a desperate father-to-be and a obviously very pregnant woman, offered the barn as a way to pacify his own guilty conscious? Or was it just a after thought to get them away from the front door of the establishment? But God knew exactly where His Son was to be born…with no onlookers, no mid-wives…only lowly animals to serve as witnesses to the greatest event in history.
Shepherds were some of the most marginalized people group of Biblical times…they were relegated to an unimportant and distasteful position within Jewish society. But yet, God saw fit for them to be the first to hear about the birth of the Messiah. But why? We have only to search Old Testament Scriptures to see the clear correlation between the shepherds on that dark hillside and Jesus Christ. Probably one of the best known Psalms, the 23rd Psalm, starts out, “The Lord is my Shepherd I shall not want.” Isaiah 40:11 talks of Jesus like this, “He tends His flock like a Shepherd; He gathers the lambs in His arms and carries them close to His heart…” And if we look in the New Testament, Jesus Himself says, “I am the good Shepherd.” (John 10:14) And elsewhere we find, in Hebrews 13:20 Jesus is called the Great Shepherd. This scruffy group of men might not have had much notoriety before men…but before God, He chose to honor them in the same way He honored His Son…the Shepherd of all mankind.
This young virgin teen-age girl, Mary, had just been told by an angel that she would carry the Son of God by means of immaculate conception by the Holy Spirit. For most, this mind-boggling idea would have them saying no…but not Mary. Her humble devotion and obedience to God shows in her song back to Him,( Luke 1:46-55) when she sings, “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has been mindful of the humble state of His servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is His name.” Despite what Mary knew would be her lot if she said yes…the personal suffering, heartache, embarrassment, and loneliness…she readily agreed to be the mother of Jesus the Messiah.
These three wise men had traveled from a long distance, relying on astrological charts and Old Testament prophecy…following this bright star in the Eastern sky. And on arriving in Bethlehem, they found the foretold King of the Jews and offered three extravagant gifts worthy of royalty…gold, frankincense, and myrrh. So on this special day of giving and receiving presents, we also have three gifts we can give the Christ Child. For Deuteronomy 6:5 tells us to, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” These three gifts you have to give are unique only to you…for they comprise who you are…your mind, body, and spirit. Therefore, they make up the greatest gift you could ever give anyone today…especially the King of Kings.
I know your day is busy with lots of last-minute things to do before Christmas. But I have a present for you…so will you take a moment from your hectic schedule? Now I know this present isn’t very pretty, in fact it’s very battered looking with red stains on the outside. And to the world it would seem very old fashion and out of date. But this present could literally change your life for the better…with joy, peace, and wholeness. This gift is actually from God, and He, Himself, is offering it to you.. For this wonderful gift is His Son, Jesus Christ…and the whole reason why we celebrate Christmas tomorrow. So please receive this gift of hope, called the Good News…for Jesus came and died for your sins that you may have eternal life.
For a moment, put yourself out on that grassy mountainside next to a campfire as you take your turn watching for wild animals that might attack the flocks. Some of your fellow shepherds are dosing…some quietly talking….when suddenly this brilliant being stands in front of you, declaring the Messiah has come! And before you can even start to take this in… a great company of heavenly host appear. It would be like bottling every flash of lightning that’s ever happened…and then turning them all loose at the same time! And as if that wasn’t enough, these heavenly beings perform a song for you…saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.” But as quickly as they appeared…they disappear…and you’re left to collect your wits and take a deep breath, all the while thinking about what you’ve just witnessed. Someone suggests traveling down to Bethlehem to see if this is true…and so off you go. And sure enough, just as the angel said, you find this tiny baby in a cattle stall… sleeping in a hay filled manger. So what do you do with all this good news? You have to tell others about what you saw and heard, right? That’s when common, uneducated men boldly started declaring the fulfillment of God’s Word…and when lowly shepherds told others about the coming of the Good Shepherd.