The Fourth Sunday of Advent December 18, 2011
60, 98, 103, 709 [TLH alt. 97(1-3)]
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
In Christ Jesus, the coming Savior, dear fellow-redeemed:
The time is almost here. Four Advent candles are lit. Children in many congregations are busy with the final preparations for Christmas Eve. All of the things we traditionally do are falling into place before Christmas—step by step we are getting closer to the big celebration. The birth of Jesus is the climax of each Advent season and the highlight of all the preparations.
During this Advent season we have been considering a number of angelic messages leading up to the first Christmas. We traveled to Mary’s house and saw Gabriel appear to her with the message, “You are chosen.” Mary was chosen to be the one through whom God would give His greatest gift, and we too are chosen and called by God to be His children.
We were with Joseph when an angel appeared to him in a dream saying, “Do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife. Go forward and fulfill God’s will as a husband and earthly father for Jesus.”
Today we come to the climax—the angelic message to the shepherds. Jesus had been born and now the news needed to be spread. God chose the shepherds as the first ones to hear that news, and as He had done for Zacharias, Mary, and Joseph, God dispatched an angel with the message. The angel’s simple message to the shepherds was that the Savior had come. But the message to the shepherds went further than just announcing the Savior’s birth. The full message to the shepherds and so also to us is: “The Savior is Born to You.”
The angel appeared to the shepherds as they were out in the field tending to their flock of sheep. Up until that time it was undoubtedly a very ordinary evening of work. But suddenly “an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them” and as we’ve seen in the case of each of the angel’s appearances, “they were greatly afraid” [v.9]
The angel went on to say, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” [v.10] At this point, the angel had not yet spoken the actual news, but the news the angel was bringing would provide great joy—not just to the shepherds, but to all people.
God’s plan of salvation for sinners was universal from the start. We can go back to Adam and Eve when the very first Gospel promise was made. When God promised that He would send the Seed of the woman who would crush the serpent’s head, Adam and Eve were the only people on the earth. God made His promise of victory over Satan to the whole population of the world.
Generations later, God chose Abraham to be the ancestral father of the nation from which the Savior would be born. God told Abraham, “…in your seed, all of the nations of the earth will be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). The blessing that would come through the Savior was not just for the nation of Israel—the nation which would grow out of Abraham’s family. Abraham’s descendants would be set apart as a separate people and special nation in order to keep them separate from their heathen neighbors and to guard, preserve, and protect them as a nation until Jesus could be born from them. Israel was set apart, but the fullness of salvation was for all people.
As a result of this universal plan of salvation we hear about Rahab, the Canaanite woman in Jericho who helped the spies and is also counted among the believers. Ruth was a Moabite woman who married into the Israelite nation but also became a believer and was a direct ancestor of Jesus Himself. When God sent the prophet Elijah to a household in order to keep him alive during the days of drought and famine, it was to a non-Israelite woman—the widow of Zarephath. When Jesus was on the earth, He ministered to Gentiles who came to Him, and when the Apostle Paul was called by Jesus it was to proclaim the Gospel especially to the Gentiles.
Throughout all of Scripture’s history and the unfolding of God’s saving plan throughout the Old Testament and into the New, it is clear that God’s salvation—the blessings through this One who would be born—was intended for all people.
Throughout Old Testament prophecy, God declared how people would come to “Zion.” They would come to Jerusalem and the faithful people of God wherever they were to hear about the salvation found with the God of Israel. Again and again it is very clear that salvation was for all. So when Simeon held the baby Jesus in his arms he said: “My eyes have seen Your salvation which You have prepared before the face of all peoples, a light to bring revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of Your people Israel” (Luke 2:30-32).
In the familiar and favorite Christmas hymn, Joy to the World, a line of poetry expresses the remarkable extent of our salvation. “No more let sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground. He comes to make His blessings flow far as the curse is found” (TLH 87:3). When sin entered the world, God cursed the ground and as a result thorns infested the ground making farming difficult. The sorrows and troubles of this earth are also a result of sin.
How far has sin’s curse reached? It has reached to every corner of this earth. There is no place on this earth where there is no death. It has reached to every corner of the earth for there is no place on this earth where you will not find suffering and sorrow and pain. There is no place on this earth where you will not find wickedness and people attacking one another in war, in personal abuse, or in what is said. The curse of sin and all of its effects have trickled down in every aspect of life in this world. It reaches every human being because we are all born in sin. It reaches every part of our own lives so we face pain, we face misery, we see sin in our lives, we see ourselves mistreating others with our words or actions.
YES! The curse has been found the world-through! But as the hymn states, Jesus comes to make His blessings known as far as that curse has been found. Just as surely as the curse has covered the entire earth and everyone in it, so too the blessings of our Savior are for all people.
The angel went on to say, “there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” [v.11-12] This news was good news for all people because Jesus was born for all people; but then the angel made it very very personal. This Savior is born to you—the shepherds to whom I’m speaking.
The same message of the angel comes to each one of you today. The Savior is born to you.. Yes, He came to redeem all people. Yes, the joy is for all people, but as you are consider your soul, that joy is for you individually. Jesus was promised and sent for you. The gift God gave to you is more than just a baby in a manger, it is also that grown man dying on the cross and crying out, “My God, My God,why are you forsaking me?” He was forsaken for you because the Savior was born to you, to die for your sins.
When that same Savior from the same cross cried out, “It is finished,” and laid down His life, it was because He was born to you. He was born to take your sins away. When He rose again to life and when He says, “Because I live you will live also” (John 14:19), it is for you individually for whom He lives.
Jesus was born to you, to live, to die, and rise again to give you personally the blessings of salvation.
After the angel had given the message to the shepherds, “suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” [13-14] The response to the angel’s message was that all of Heaven broke forth in celebration because now there would be peace between God and sinners who rebelled against Him.
Because Jesus was born for you, you have the peace of being reconciled to God. The apostle Paul says, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself” (2 Corinthians 5:19)—bridging the gap, reconciling sinners back to Himself by removing sin through Christ—and has committed to us the word (message) of reconciliation.
We have the message that this Savior was born to us to save us from our sins, and that leads us to praise and glorify God. Honor Him, exalt Him, call Him above every other name because of what He has done for you!
In many ways we could say that the angel’s message to the shepherds is that “peace is born.” Our world looks so fervently for peace on this earth. The world uses this passage to try to find peace and to advocate for peace on the earth, but such peace will never be found because it is not the peace of which God speaks. The angels spoke of the peace in our hearts toward God when we know that our sins are forgiven.
That peace can lead to earthly peace, but the true peace of Christmas is not between the countries of the world. Christmas peace is between you and God.
Herein lies the significance of all the preparations of this last week before Christmas. Here we find joy on Christmas Eve and Christmas morning and whenever you sing “Joy to the World.” There is joy because the Savior was born to you…to forgive your sins to set you free.
May the Lord bless each one of us in the coming days as we continue to prepare, and then when our hearts erupt with angelic-like joy, to sing the praise of God who sent His Son to be our Savior. Amen.
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