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Sermon for December 25, 2022 – Christmas

Speaking Of Life 5005 │ Best-Laid Plans

Psalm 96 · Isaiah 9:2-7 · Titus 2:11-14 · Luke 2:1-14, (15-20)

The theme for this week is finding ourselves in the hope of the nativity. Our call to worship in Psalm 96 praises God’s righteousness, evident in the created world and our participation in it. Isaiah 9 promises that the Son given to us will free us from oppression and bring endless peace. In Titus 2, Paul writes of Jesus’ willingness to give himself so we might pursue goodness, kindness, and mercy. Our sermon text is Luke 2:1-14, (15-20) where we’ll explore how we can identify with the shepherds who were the first recipients of the good news of Jesus’s birth.

The Divine Touch: The Shepherds and Us

Luke 2:1-20 (NRSVUE)

Let’s test your knowledge of Christmas carol trivia. What was the first Christmas hymn authorized by the Anglican Church that was written by a poet laureate of England? And one random clue…it has the word “shepherds” in the title. [wait for responses]

“While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” was written around 1700 by Nahum Tate, the poet laureate of England between 1692 and 1715. Tate was an Irishman who moved to London to work as a poet and playwright during his 20s. Until Tate wrote “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks,” the Anglican Church only allowed the Psalms of David to be sung in church. What makes Tate’s hymn different is that it isn’t based on a psalm; it’s a metrically paraphrased version of Luke 2:8-14 which is a portion of our sermon text for today. You’ll notice that Tate managed to work in the connection with King David in the third stanza.  Let’s read the lyrics for a preview of today’s sermon scripture:

While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around.

‘Fear not!’ said he, for mighty dread
Had seized their troubled mind;
‘Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all mankind.

‘To you, in David’s town, this day
Is born of David’s line
A Saviour, who is Christ the Lord
And this shall be the sign:

‘The heav’nly Babe you there shall find
To human view displayed,
All meanly wrapped in swathing bands,
And in a manger laid.’

Thus spake the seraph and forthwith
Appeared a shining throng
Of angels praising God on high,
Who thus addressed their song:

‘All glory be to God on high,
And to the Earth be peace;
Good will henceforth from heav’n to men
Begin and never cease!’

Our sermon text today focuses on Jesus’s birth and the angelic visitation the shepherds experienced. Let’s read Luke 2:1-20. [read sermon text]

In considering this nativity story which we’ve heard countless times, let’s think about why God might have chosen shepherds to play an important role in the story of Jesus’s birth.

  • The shepherds were in the dark. These were people who were doing their job, guarding their sheep at night, and suddenly, light was everywhere. The contrast of dark vs. light would get their undivided attention, and the metaphor of light/dark is a common one throughout Scripture.
  • The shepherds were on the bottom rung of their socio-economic world. They would have been the last people that anyone would have thought God would interact with, let alone share the special news about Emmanuel – God with us. They had done nothing extraordinary to deserve this divine touch and revelation. This is a recurring motif when God interacts with people. It’s very often somebody who is considered a nobody in the culture.
  • Despite their low economic standing, the shepherds modeled the way God looked after God’s chosen people. Examples in the Old Testament, such as Isaiah 40:11, Psalm 23, and Ezekiel 34:11-24, show how God looked after Israel as a good shepherd watched out for his sheep.
  • The shepherds simply obeyed the angelic command to go see the baby. They didn’t try to dismiss what they’d seen or explain it away. They went right away, “with haste” (v. 16).
  • The shepherds told others about what they had seen. They “made known what had been told them about this child” (v. 17). The divine touch and favor shown by God made the shepherds bold in sharing what they had witnessed.

As Luther Seminary Professor Sarah Henrich says:

Heaven and earth meet in obscure places, not in the halls of power. Shepherds and angels. A birth in the city of King David, but far from the royal residence. And that birth, that joy is for all people, just as the census was said to have been. 

With this strategic choice to tell the good news of Jesus’s birth to shepherds, God reveals the divine grace that cares not at all about class and power and position.

Revealing the birth of the Son of God first to shepherds also foreshadows the way Jesus lived his life. Jesus chose to hang out with tax collectors (Luke 5:27-29) and did not condemn sex workers (John 8:10-11; Luke 7:38-44). He touched and healed those considered unclean by the culture (Matthew 8:1-4). He spoke to women and allowed them to support him and minister to him (Luke 8: 1-3). Jesus said, “Let the children come to me, and do not stop them, for it is to such as these that the kingdom of heaven belongs” (Matthew 19:14, NRSVUE). Jesus lived the way of making those first who thought they should be last based on the culture they were a part of. God’s revelation to the shepherds reminds us that God honors those who are often marginalized by the culture, and so should we.

Application: 

  • The Christmas story shows us that God works through ordinary people and purposefully chooses those who might be considered “outsiders” to reveal God’s grace and favor. Just to make it clear that God’s love and commitment to us cannot be earned, the example of the shepherds demonstrates God’s willingness to validate those often dismissed by the culture.
  • Christmas reminds us that God has entered our world and our history by taking on our flesh. Because of this, God is a part of our lives through Emmanuel – God with us – and this is what we proclaim at Christmas by singing the Christmas songs like “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks,” and by participating in other Christmas rituals. Because we are embodied, there is value in participating in rituals to celebrate the incarnation and embodiment of Jesus.
  • God came to us at Christmas so that we would possess courage and hope to face the difficulties of living in a world of uncertainty. The promise of Emmanuel – God with us – means we do not navigate life’s struggles without guidance or support. We are not alone.

By considering God’s choice to share the good news of Jesus’s birth with the shepherds, we can understand more about how the Christ child was born to be “good news of great joy for all the people,” not just those who were rich or powerful or esteemed by the culture. Through Christ’s birth and the nativity story, God reveals God’s plans for all humanity and confirms that indeed, God is love.

For Reference:

https://interestingliterature.com/2018/11/a-short-analysis-of-the-christmas-carol-while-shepherds-watched-their-flocks/

https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/christmas-eve-nativity-of-our-lord/commentary-on-luke-21-14-15-20-20

The Welcome Mat w/ Al Kurzawa W4

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December 25 – Nativity of the Lord
Luke 2: 1-14, 15-20 “Joy For All People”

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Program Transcript


Anthony: Brother man, it’s Christmas day. Let’s move on to our final pericope of the month. It’s Luke 2:1-14, 15-20 Common English Bible. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for Christmas Day, December the 25th.

Al, please read it for us.

Al: Okay.

In those days Caesar Augustus declared that everyone throughout the empire should be enrolled in the tax lists. This first enrollment occurred when Quirinius governed Syria. Everyone went to their own cities to be enrolled. Since Joseph belonged to David’s house and family line, he went up from the city of Nazareth in Galilee to David’s city, called Bethlehem, in Judea. He went to be enrolled together with Mary, who was promised to him in marriage and who was pregnant. While they were there, the time came for Mary to have her baby. She gave birth to her firstborn child, a son, wrapped him snugly, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guestroom. Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, 14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

Anthony: Not a bad job pronouncing Quirinius. See. I can’t say it. You did. Excellent.

Al: I practiced a lot today.

Anthony: I bet you did, brother. Well done. We don’t name our kids that anymore. We should rectify that.

Al, it’s Christmas day. By the way, what’d you get me for Christmas?

Al: Ooh. It’s in the mail.

Anthony: Like Ed McMahon and my big prize. It’s in the mail. Okay.

Are there any Christmas traditions your family has been doing through the years that you’d be willing to share with our listening audience and what does the Christmas season mean to you?

Al: Alright. I have to give a little bit of background first, because my wife and I did not grow up celebrating Christmas.

It wasn’t part of either of our family’s tradition. And so, when we were married and started having kids, we did discuss what are we going to do as a family? And it’s been an interesting journey trying to figure out what traditions we wanted to establish for our family, because we didn’t come from any tradition.

So, in one sense, it was great because we started with a blank slate. But another sense, it’s hard starting traditions when you don’t even know what to do, what’s going to have meaning or not. And a few things never really stuck. But the two things that have seem to stick for our family is, first off, my wife bought an Advent calendar with cards.

And each day of Advent is a name or title for Jesus, and a passage that goes along with it. So, at dinnertime, during Advent, when we’re done eating, or near the end, one of the kids gets the card and they get to read the name, and then they get to read the passage and whatever discussions might come from that.

So that’s been enjoyable. And then because the cards, we then hang up around the living room my wife puts a beautiful string around the walls. And then we can see those words, those titles for Jesus, throughout the whole month.

And then when it gets to Christmas Eve time one of the channels here does carols by candlelight. And in Melbourne they put on this huge concert singing hymns and carols. And a lot of people in Melbourne will go to that and sit in the park. And you have to remember that here in December, it’s summertime, so it’s usually pretty good, warm weather so people can bring their picnic blankets and sit out.

And in our family, my wife’s a great cook and she makes homemade fudge, and she’ll make some chocolate fondue and we have strawberries, and we have fudge and some other neat little snacks, and we’ll just put on the carols by candlelight. And they sing songs like Holy Night, O Jerusalem. They do the Hallelujah Chorus from the Handel’s Messiah. And so, you get some of the top artists from Australia singing that night. And we get to sit back, enjoy some lovely food and enjoy some wonderful carols.

However, last week I did see a post that in Iceland, on Christmas Eve, they exchange books and then spend the rest of the night reading and eating chocolate. So that might be something we need to incorporate into our night. I wouldn’t mind doing that, doing a bit of reading that night.

Anthony: Speaking of chocolate, you mentioned chocolate fondue. What time should we show up at your house? We’re invited, right?

Al: About 7:30pm it should be all ready. We’re done with dinner and my wife’s set it all out, so you’re all welcome. 7:30 my house.

Anthony: Y’all come. I love it.

The passage mentions that Jesus, the firstborn child, was wrapped snugly. And sometimes I wonder, as we think about a nativity scene, it can be a bit sanitized and glamorized. Does it do a disservice to the depths our Lord humbly submitted himself to the human condition?

I’m curious for your thoughts.

Al: I would agree that it does. Again, my very smart wife says that when she became a mom, this whole passage changed for her because as a mom, this passage took on new meanings for her with the depths of Jesus’ humility.

He was born a baby, which means that he had to have his diaper or nappy, as we say in Australia, changed for him. He was completely at the mercy of Mary and Joseph to be fed, clothed, provided for. He went through that entire stage of baby and childhood and having to learn to walk and read and write and feed oneself.

So yeah, it can be a disservice when we forget about that. Jesus, really, when we talk about humble, he humbled himself to all of the human experience, including being a baby that has to be completely looked after.

Anthony: Yeah. It’s staggering. Continue.

Al: And one of the other thoughts with the whole sanitizing the service. I think part of it can also be in relation to those of us in the western world because if you think back to Mary’s Magnificat that we talked about, she talks about it with Jesus coming, it’s a reversal.

It’s God turning an upside-down world right side up. However, those of us in first world countries sometimes forget that we are the ones who can be proud. We are the ones that can be powerful. We are the ones that have full bellies.

So, I’m talking here to myself, that this inflection that I need to think about is maybe this good news of the poor being fed and the rich going away empty-handed, isn’t the sanitized good news that we in prosperous countries make it out to be? In the humility of Jesus’ birth, the manger of animals, the nobody’s involved in Jesus’ birth, it’s also a time for us for reflection, a time to stop and ask, is our part in this birth narrative maybe different than we assume?

Think about who is at the birth and who is it? First, notice who is not there? No Caesar, no King Herod, no chief priest from the temple. No army general. No politicians, none of the rich and famous. None of those that we usually would, in our current culture, that we think are important, having status worldly leaders.

But notice who is there, Joseph and Mary, two nobodies from Nazareth. No one had ever heard of them up to this point. And until Jesus had his ministry and the disciples and apostles start sharing the good news, after Jesus has risen and then some of them start writing down this Gospels good news, we would’ve never have known of Joseph and Mary.

Just two people having a baby. That happens all the time. And then you have these unnamed shepherds. They were the nomads at the time, right? They’d be our modern-day immigrants who are willing to work for less than minimum wage. They’re just wandering from job to job, living out in the fields with the sheep, no hot running water.

And then eight days later, Jesus is presented at the temple and there’s a guy named, Simian, and there’s an old lady named, Anna. These are the people that get to witness the birth of humanity’s salvation in the person of Jesus Christ. It’s witnessed by a bunch of nobodies.

And the who’s who of Judea and the Roman Empire, they’re nowhere to be found. They’re off running the world, or at least think they are. And yet the King is born, and they’re too busy doing their other things.

So, it’s this chance, as you talk about, we can have this little manger scene and the snow falling and the shepherds around and the wise men in these little manger scenes, narratives like we put up.

But yeah, we can start to sanitize it and think of the joy of a baby born. But it’s also a comeuppance. It’s one of these things where we need to stop, reflect and go, are we actually there with Joseph and Mary and baby?

Or are we actually with the Caesars and the Herods in the palaces and off doing our own thing and a bit too busy during this season to actually stop and go, oh, wait a minute, the King has been born and he’s humbled himself. And that’s what he wants us to follow in his footsteps in all that too. Be that humble one. And if we’re the rich and we got the full bellies, then we need to be maybe pausing going, who do I need to feed?

Who is out there that I can help? Who is out there that I can give comfort to, warmth to? Who’s out there that might be sleeping in a manger that I can open my home to? And I’m talking metaphorically here but some might be literally, might be figuratively, of how can we look out for the Joseph and Marys out there and invite them and let them belong and look after them?

Anthony: That’s quite insightful, what you said, who’s there and who’s not. And that brought me to this moment of thinking about the incarnation, the birth of the Godchild. That with it is certainly the grace that God showed up on the scene, pitched the tent, as you said earlier.

But also comes with it a judgment that we needed a savior born to us. We needed a King. And so that’s what I hear you reflecting on. That as we look at the story — often when we come to a narrative scripture, if we think of ourselves in the story, have you noticed, Al, we generally make ourselves the good guys?

We’re with the good guys, we’re the ones doing it right. But what I hear you saying is really an important thing, that we also need to stop and reflect. Where am I and truly in this story? Would I be there? Would I come to see the wondrous, joyous news that’s good for all people?

Or would I be too busy doing my own thing, building my own kingdom when the King of the true kingdom has shown up on the scene? Thank you for that word.

It’s important for us to reflect on even at a time like Christmas and that’s what grace teaches us to do, right? We sometimes think of grace as even warm and fuzzy, like we think of the Christ child being born in a manger, but grace tells us to say no to ungodliness, right? That’s what Titus teaches us. So, it’s a truth-telling grace that we get to reflect upon.

I’m struck that in verse 9, the people were terrified when God showed up on the scene, when the Lord’s angel or his representative, I should say, showed up on the scene. And we see that often in scripture that people are terrified when something of the glory of heaven shows up.

Tell us about that. What’s going on?

Al: In contemplating on this and doing a little reading, I came across a quote by A.W. Tozer, who observed about 50 years ago, he said, “The greatness of God rouses fear within us, but his goodness encourages us not to be afraid of him. To fear and not be afraid, that is the paradox of faith.”

And I thought, yeah, he just captured that really well. And the image that came to my mind is the one of a moth being drawn to one of those bug zaps, right? The light is brilliant from a moth perspective. It’s this brilliant light, and it draws them off to it, but it’s also being drawn to its death.

In Luke’s Gospel story of the calling of the disciples, after the miracle catch of fish, Peter’s first exclamation is, go away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man. And yet it says, the disciples got out of the boat and followed Jesus. So, he says to go away from me, I’m sinful. But then he follows Jesus.

So, we get a glimpse of the glory of God, and we see simultaneously God’s goodness, God’s holy love, God’s all-consuming love, and our sinfulness embedded in our very core and our complete destruction if in our current bodies, we were to encounter the full glory of God. God’s all-consuming love means that He wants all of us. Not one part is left to our own. C.S. Lewis calls this the intolerable compliment, that God is not willing to let any part of us, no dark corner, no little bit not be redeemed and reconciled to him.

Sometimes we want to compromise with God and say, Okay, I’ll give you this part of my life, but let me keep control of this part of my life. We either think we know better how to run that part of our life, or we like that part of our life the way it is. And we’re afraid God’s just going to mess it up if he gets his hands on it. He’ll want to purify us and there goes our fun.

But the only way to truly live into the abundant life that God has for us is to submit our entire lives to every part. And God won’t be satisfied unless he has every part. When we get a glimpse of that all-consuming love, we recognize that it truly is all-consuming. Like a refiner’s fire. All our impurities are going to be melted away until we are the masterpiece that, that great artist God has designed each and every one of us to be.

One of my favorite passages is Ephesian 2, and in the New Living translation it calls us God’s masterpiece. He is the master artist and each of one of us is a masterpiece, and he won’t finish with us until we are fully done. We are the masterpiece he designed us to be.

And what’s encouraging in this passage is even though the shepherds were frightened, they’re invited to witness the birth of Jesus. So even in our fear, God tells us, do not be afraid because what he has planned for us is an invitation. He’s inviting us to join in with the love that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have always been participating in for all time and always will.

So, it’s an invitation. It’s terrifying because he’s going to refine us so that we can participate in it. But once that masterpiece is done, when each and every one of us is done, we will get to fully participate in that love for all time.

I love what Tozer said. It’s just the paradox of this greatness of God. But there’s also his encouragement. Do not be afraid. I heard one time that’s the most often quoted, that’s the most often cited command in the Bible. Do not be afraid because he doesn’t want us to fear. He wants us to live, submit, and live into this perfect love that he has designed for us.

Anthony: That’s a good way to end. And I’m looking at verse 14. Glory to God in heaven and on the earth. Peace among those whom he favors.

He favors you, friends. Merry Christmas to you all. Al, it’s been a joy having you on the podcast today. Merry Christmas to you and your family. Thank you so much for the keen insights by the Spirit that you provided for us here today.

And I also want to thank our fine producer, Reuel Enerio, and our transcriber, Elizabeth Mullins. They do a fantastic job, which makes this podcast possible.

Brother, I love you. You are a beloved child of the living God, and as is our tradition on the Gospel Reverb podcast, we’d love to end with prayer, and I know you’d like to share benediction as well.

Al: Yes. And let me just say again, thank you for having me on this podcast. I love listening to Gospel Reverb and now to actually be a part of it in this way, I just really appreciate it. And if I may also say back to you, Anthony, you are a beloved son of the Father and how wonderful that is. And a Merry Christmas to you and to all our listeners as well.

And yeah, if you would join me in prayer.

Loving God, we give you thanks. We thank you so much for who you are. We thank you that you continue to reveal to us who you are. And in that process, we learn who we are. We’re your beloved in Christ. We are your beloved sons and daughters. And we just thank you for these scriptures, these holy scriptures which you’ve given us, so that we can reflect and draw deeper into that relationship with you.

I just pray for those that will be reflecting on these passages and sharing them and teaching from them over the month of Advent. I just pray that your Holy Spirit guides them and gives them your words so that in each of their messages and in their teachings, they bring glory to you.

And we just pray this in Jesus’ name.

And now may the God of hope, the Lord of love, and the Spirit of comfort, fill all of you with joy, peace, hope, and love, so that it fills and overflows from you into others this advent season. Amen.


Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • Have you ever created plans that ended up falling apart? If so, how did that make you feel? How did you respond to the situation?
  • The video talks about how the Jewish people held certain expectations for what the Messiah would be like. What expectations have you had for people or situations that made it difficult for you to accept what was actually happening?

From the sermon

  • When considering God’s choice to share the good news about Jesus’ birth with shepherds, what do you find most surprising? What does this tell you about God’s character?
  • Consider the angels’ prophecy that Jesus was “the good news of great joy for all the people.” What role do you think the shepherds played by witnessing the angelic hosts and sharing what they had seen with others? How do we live out of love rather than following cultural expectations?

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