Everyone likes to announce the arrival of their long expected child. When my wife and I were expecting our daughter my wife set about creating birth announcements. I’m sure you have seen (and even received) these special greeting cards.
Wanting others to share in our joy, and wanting those who might be oblivious to the fact to know, we send out notices telling everyone that Katelyn had finally arrived.
Sending out birth announcements is nothing new. It is a very common and even natural thing to do. As a matter of fact people throughout history have done it. Back in olden days it was a lot easier because you didn’t need the post office to do it. Friends and relatives were usually confined to the immediate town. The birth of a child would only take someone going through the local community to deliver the message.
As we look at our passage we see that God sent out a birth announcement too. The verses before tonight present us with a royal birth announcement. Our heavenly Father announces the arrival of His long expected Son.
You may well know that Angels were God’s appointed messengers. They would speak on his behalf They were his ambassadors (or postal workers if you would like). They were the ones who delivered the news of the advent of His Son.
But as we think about this royal birth announcement it is interesting to note to whom the angel was sent. The message of Jesus’ advent came to shepherds (of all people!).
I. Its loathesome recipients
To understand the full import of this you must realize something about shepherds at this time. I like to think of shepherds as the lawyers of their day. (No, they did not conduct courtroom cases.) What I mean is that they had the reputation that we typically assign to lawyers. First, they were untrustworthy. In that day a shepherd’s testimony was not valid in legal matters. Something about them made people think that they could not be relied upon to tell the truth. Like criminals, they couldn’t be trusted.
But that they couldn’t be trusted is not the only factor that makes them an odd choice for an audience. You must also realize that shepherds were rather despised people. That’s because they were considered unclean.
Modern Nativity scenes don't help us here. They depict innocent looking boys tending white, fluffy sheep. Sheep are anything but white and clean. They are grimy things, and they stink.
But shepherds were boys, and boys don't typically clean themselves up. And especially shepherd boys. For the most part they lived in the out-of-doors. Their occupation made them a very earthy people. And being outside so much doesn’t allow you to wash up very regularly. So, by the strict ceremonial standards, they were considered unclean.
When we sent out our birth announcements we sent them to particular people. You would think that when God wanted to announce the birth of his beloved Son, you would think that he would bring it to kings or the nobility (or at least the religiously inclined). But, of all people, God chose to announce the arrival of his Son to lowly, unclean people.
That's a good reminder. The Gospel is not for those who have their act together. It is for those whose moral hygiene is comparable to that of a cockroach. It is for loathsome people. The message of Christ and his saving power is for sinners, and therefore, it is for us. And the good news is that God has brought the message of His Son to you tonight.
You might be here in your Sunday best, but you know that on the inside there's all kinds of shepherd like filth. You've cheated, you're used to acting in a godless way. You've got the stench and stain of sin. Its guilt clings to you like the slimy grime on a sheep's wool.
And the good news is that this child was born is not for the elite or socially refined. He was born for those who, like you and me, are morally corrupt and in need of forgiveness and purification.
But the good news of this announcement is not just found in its recipients, it is also found in its subject. The message was given to a particular people, but it was also about a specific person: i.e. the Messiah.
II. Its messianic content
When Birth announcements are sent out they are filled with information. People want to hear the good news, so that they can share the joy. So the parents tell a little about the child.
Now, the angel doesn’t fill us in on all the details, but he does tell us quite a bit. And his message highlights that this really was good news! It was reason for joy (joy for all the people, as the angel says in verse 10)!
But why was it good news and cause for joy? Well, the good news is that Israel’s long expected deliverer had come. You see that in the fact that the angel pinpoints the place of birth, “The city of David.” He could have very easily said Bethlehem, but saying “The city of David” he calls to mind, not only a place, but a history. The Israelites were expecting a king. They knew that a descendent of David would one day rise to claim his throne. By using this terminology, “the city of David,” the angel pointed to the fact that this child was that royal heir.
Modern birth announcements usually contain more details than the place of birth. They include items that people have been waiting to hear such as the child’s length and weight. This announcement leaves out those details. Rather it includes the purpose of the child. The angel says that “A Savior” was born.
Not many of us could be so bold as to put on our child’s birth announcement, “Unto us is born a Doctor.” Or “Unto us is born an electrical engineer.” We don’t know what our child is going to be when he or she grows up. But this child was no ordinary child. He was born for a particular reason. He was the deliverer. He wasn’t a deliverer from foreign powers or tyrannical governments. He was the one who would deliverer his people from sin and death. He was a Savior in the truest sense of the word.
When sending out birth announcements though, there is only one thing that everyone really cares about, “What’s his name?” A birth announcement without the name of the child is like a donut without a hole, it really isn’t a birth announcement.
The angel includes the child’s name. He says that, “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” Again we see that this was Israel’s long expected deliverer. Christ is the Greek word for Messiah, which means Anointed. In the Old Testament people were anointed with oil for particular tasks. For example, the priest was anointed with oil to set him apart for his priestly duties. Frequently kings were anointed with oil too. And you could say that Prophets were anointed as well. They were anointed with the Holy Spirit to speak God’s Word.
Here we have the Anointed One. He was set apart as the Lord’s agent for salvation.
But not only should we notice where he was born, or what he was named. What is peculiar is that verse 12 is included in the announcement. It says, “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
Now why would the angel include this? It certainly isn’t so that the shepherds knew where to forward their gifts. You might say that it was so that it was a sign so they knew that it was real. That is true, and that certainly would wipe away any doubts. But don’t you think that the angel said this primarily so that they would go and see.
This birth announcement proclaims that the Savior has come, but it also invites you to come to the Savior.
The good news of Christmas is not that there is a 75% off sale on whatever last minute gift you need to get for your Aunt Millie. The season is a joyous season because there is one who has come from God to bear the penalty of our immorality. This Son of God has come to deliver us from the bondage of sin. And the Lord invites all of us who are unclean shepherds to come and embrace the Savior in faith.
And that certainly is good news. In our society today anyone of any repute seeks to shelter himself from people who are considered outcasts. But the Son of God is put on display before people of all stripes. And we are encouraged to go to him, to behold him, and claim him as our very own Savior and Lord.
When we consider the recipients and the content of this announcement our hearts ought to be filled with gladness. But our gladness ought to be amplified all the more when we consider this announcement’s extravagance.
III. Its excessive extravagance
Right after the angel announced the message the heavens burst into song. The sky filled with the angelic hosts who sang the praises of God. "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!"
I have seen people announce the birth of their child in some pretty fantastic ways, but this is by far the most ornate. It was accompanied by an unrestrained exhale of praise.
We know from the book of Romans that the creation groans as it wait the redemption of the saints. But here a particular part of God’s creation, the celestial and spiritual beings, openly voices their sheer delight at the prospect.
But we would do well to note that the melody that rang in the Shepherds’ ears was a song of harmony, not just in tune, but in content. Because of this child men of earth may live in harmony with the God of heaven. The Prince of Peace has come! He gives peace, because he reconciles us to God.
In World War II the people of Germany faced a great amount of turmoil due to the Allied air-raids. Because Germany was being bombed, civilians suffered greatly. They were afflicted because the enemy was based within their communities. But once Allied Forces found out that the German forces had moved out their attacks would cease. Allied forces would move in and claim that territory. Besides dealing with the carnage that was left, the people there would experience peace.
If we have received Jesus we may have peace with God. That’s because we are no longer the targets of his displeasure. Though we are guilty and justly deserve his wrath, we may live in harmony with our former enemy. His anger was laid upon His Son. Peace was made because this child, who was born on Christmas morning, would one day receive the condemnation of God in our stead on the cross.
So many people are looking for peace today. In the midst of a commercialized Christmas season it is hard to find. The craze of holiday preparations leaves people craving just moments of tranquility. The hustle and bustle of shopping only produces headaches and heart-aches. And even when the Christmas season is over, and all the unwanted gifts are returned, there will be no peace. There might be quiet, but no real peace. Peace only comes when you, lowly sinner, have received Jesus Christ as Savior, and, as a result, been reconciled to God. Peace comes when you are able to sing with the angels the praises of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ.
When we receive a card in the mail telling us that a friend or loved one has had a new addition to their family, we rejoice with them. But sooner or later that piece of paper is thrown away (or if you are a pack-rat it is tucked away to be forever forgotten). This birth announcement is much different than any we have received before. The declaration that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is an announcement of reconciliation. It comes to those of us who are filthy sinners. It invites us to embrace the Savior in faith, and it offers us full & eternal peace with God.
These glad tidings must never be cast aside, but rather received and laid up in your heart for great joy.
Kindled Fire is dedicated
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.