The northern Israeli town of Nazareth will be missing Christmas. It is not as if there will be no ribbons or tags. It is not as if there will be no packages, boxes or bags. All town holiday plans, including a Christmas festival have been halted. The mayor of Nazareth has canceled Christmas and for only one reason. President Donald J. Trump has taken away the joy of the holiday.
It is quite the contrast when on December 25, 1843 at the sound of nine o’clock in the morning, a man awoke to the realization that he had not missed it. He had not missed Christmas. And with too much delight he exclaimed, “I am as light as a feather, I am as happy as an angel, I am as merry as a schoolboy. I am as giddy as a drunken man. A merry Christmas to everybody! A happy New Year to all the world!”
I have missed Christmas. And it is always in the afternoon of January 1. It is on that day that everything goes back to normal. The local radio station returns to playing the hits of the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and today. Christmas baking is no more. The store has already replaced the Christmas candy with chocolate hearts. The Christmas tree will soon be boxed away or placed at the curb. And the home will soon feel bare. January 1 is when I miss Christmas. But not this year. This year it is different. It is December 17 and I am wondering, are you missing Christmas?
The Help of Every Detail
Luke 2 is a treasure. Mary the mother Jesus thought Luke 2 to be a treasure. She was one of the first people to ever hear Luke 2 and when she did, “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). All these things refer to things beginning with verse eight. I love the word treasure; nearly every English translation includes it. It means to keep safe or to guard with close care. And the way this is written is that as she heard these things, things beginning with verse eight, she was treasuring each, each detail and each part and each thing in her heart. And hold on to this – she was guarding each detail and each part and each thing beginning with verse eight with close care.
But notice the word ponder. It could also be the word meditate. This is so interesting. Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke. Luke who wrote the Gospel of Luke also wrote the New Testament book called Acts. And here is what is so exciting: Luke is the only New Testament writer that uses this word translated as ponder or meditate. It literally means to come together. Here it is used to show that as Mary closely guarded these things in her heart, she pondered them. She brought each thing together and ruminated over them. She thought deeply about each thing. How so? Remember, Luke is the only New Testament writer who uses this particular word. And he uses it mainly in the book of Acts. There we see it used as meaning to meet up together. But it is when it is used in Acts 18:27 that is really helpful. “And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed.” It is the word helped. This is the same word as ponder or meditate in Luke 2:19. And in Acts 18:27 it is described as a great help. What is the point? These things, each detail and each part beginning with verse eight, Mary guarded with close care and pondered them. Why? Each thing was a great help to her.
Are you missing Christmas? Would you like some help?
A Known Name in the World
Mary treasured up all these things and these things begin with verse eight. We know this because of who has told Mary all these things. The things she has heard and the things she has treasured and things that are of great help are told to her by some shepherds. And these shepherds do not get mentioned until Luke 2:8.
But I have to share something I have never noticed. I have preached Luke 2 before and never saw this. I grew up listening to Luke 2 every Christmas Eve in our living room awaiting to go to bed in anticipation of Christmas morning. I never appreciated this. In order to get to Luke 2:8 you need to begin with Luke 2:1. This is just to say that the entire context of Luke 2:8-20 is Luke 2:1-20. And it is just really helpful. Notice how Luke 2 begins. “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered.” Luke 2 begins with a known name in the world. The known name in the world is Caesar Augustus. And what does he do? He issues a decree that goes out into all the world that all the world should be registered. Why is this so important?
Listen carefully to Luke 2:4-5. “And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary his betrothed, who was with child.” Why is Joseph making his way to Bethlehem? It all has to do with that decree. And who is with him? Now notice verse six. “And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth.” And pay attention to verse seven. “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.” Why does any of this matter?
No Names in the Field
Listen to Luke 2:8. “And in the same region.” What region is that? It is the same region as the previous verses; Judea, the city of David, which is called Bethlehem. “And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Such a contrast to verse one; a known name in the world to no names in the field. The decree from verse one sent Joseph and Mary who was with child, along with anyone else who is from Bethlehem, to Bethlehem. If not for that decree, what reason would Joseph and Mary have for being in Bethlehem at this time? If not for that decree, Mary does not give birth in Bethlehem. If not for that decree, Mary does not wrap her firstborn son in swaddling cloths and lay him in a manger, a feeding box for animals. And if not for that decree, there is room in the inn. If not for that decree, this is just another ordinary night for some shepherds in the field.
Fear Not, For Behold
And it is somewhat interesting that we do not know how many shepherds were in this field on this night, nor we do we know their names. It is funny to me that in some religious traditions there is much made, too much made, of the wise men who came to see Jesus after his birth. Much is made about their number – three – and their specific names. Both being something that the Bible does not say. But no such concern is made about these shepherds. Why is that?
As these shepherds were out in the field an angel of the Lord appeared to them. The word appeared literally means to stand among. Out of nowhere an angel is standing among these shepherds and they are filled with fear and not just any fear, but great fear. And now listen to verse ten. “Fear not.” Just note this; this is a command. Keep listening. “Fear not, for behold.” Just note this; this too is a command. Two commands to these no name shepherds in the field. Do not be afraid and behold.
Pay attention to those two commands and especially the word behold. Behold is the reason to not be afraid and it simply means to look. These shepherds are commanded to look or see. And it is given in the sense to do this now. But here is the great part. This kind of looking is a looking that is to become knowing. Behold that you might know.
Listen to the rest of verse ten. What are these shepherds to see that might become knowing? “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy that will be for all the people.” Pause there. Who is afraid, greatly afraid? The shepherds! And what are these shepherds to see that might become knowing? Good news of a great joy. Now just notice the rest of what the angel has to say about this good news of a great joy. I like how the New International translation words it. “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” And who is this good news of a great joy for? It is for all the people. What people? This is too wonderful; beginning with what people? Write that question down and we will get back to it.
And first, do not miss this great joy. Listen for it in Luke 2:11. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” The great joy is a Savior, one who is mighty to rescue. The great joy is a Savior whose name is Christ, the Messiah, God’s promised King. The great joy is a Savior whose name is the Lord, he is God Almighty. Do not miss this great joy. Who initially is not to miss this joy? Who is the you in verse eleven?
Listen to Luke 2:12. “And this will be a sign for you.” This is about not missing this joy. Again, who initially is not to miss this joy? Who is the you in verse twelve? The word sign means a distinguishing mark and the distinguishing mark is a baby; a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths; a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths lying in a manger. And again, if not for that decree…
Pay attention to Luke 2:15. “When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’” The word see is the same as behold in verse ten. Let us go that we might know…this thing that has happened. And as the shepherds go to know this thing that has happened, they find Joseph and Mary. And when they do, they relay the things beginning with verse eight. Look closely at verse eighteen. “And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.” But Mary treasured and pondered. Remember, Mary is guarding with close care each part, each detail, each thing she has heard which all begins with verse eight. Who was telling her these things? The shepherds! So, could it be that one of the details, one the parts, one of the things she guarded with close care was these shepherds?
I think the shepherds may be a big part of the big idea. The good news of a great joy for all the people began with shepherds. It was good news of a great joy for them. Unto you in verse eleven included these shepherds. The sign in verse twelve was given to these shepherds.
Why the Shepherds?
Somewhat of a big question of the text is, why the shepherds? Why are the shepherds so prominent here? Some have suggested it is because shepherds shepherd sheep. And these shepherds could have been shepherding sheep that would be used for Passover. The birth of Jesus is the birth of the ultimate Passover Lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29). Others have suggested it is because the birth of Jesus is the birth of the good Shepherd. So, news that is first given to shepherds is about the greatest Shepherd who loves his flock and will give his life for the flock. This also is a fulfillment of Micah 5. The one born in Bethlehem is the shepherd of Israel (Micah 5:4).
But I have another suggestion. The word shepherd means a feeder, a protector. It is the word we get for pastor. Pastors are shepherds who feed and protect a flock, a flock of people. How do they do that? Ephesians 4:11 explains that pastors do that with teaching. And notice these shepherds, these pastors, after spreading this good news of a great joy to people, went back to work (Luke 2:20). I like to think that part of Luke 2 and this news coming to shepherds first, is so that pastors will not miss Christmas.
Are You Missing Christmas?
And so, I come back to the question. Are you missing Christmas? And to not miss Christmas…
1. Do not be afraid. “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you at the proper time, casting all your care on Him, because He cares about you” (1 Peter 5:6-7).
2. What really drives out fear? Behold the good news of a great joy for it causes great joy.
3. And get back to work. After all these things, the shepherds went back to work “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them” (Luke 2:20).