More Than a Christmas Story

Luke 2:10-12 - And the angel said to the shepherds, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger."

Read Luke 2:1-20.

The Christmas story of Luke 2 is so much a part of our culture and tradition that we sometimes forget that it is Holy Scripture. When we hear the familiar words that are read so often around the holiday season, our minds tend to picture things like nativity scenes and little children dressed up as angels and shepherds for Christmas pageants and programs. But Luke 2 is not just a story for Christmastime; it is Scripture. As the Word of God, Luke 2 has something to say to us every day of the year. Let us look at some of the year-round lessons from this account of our Lord's birth.

The Setting

First, there is the lesson of the setting. The birth of Jesus took place at a time when the Roman empire was in control of all the so-called civilized world. As supreme ruler, Emperor Caesar Augustus (v1) ruled the world with an iron hand. His decree that a census should be taken forced everyone to comply (v3). What power! What authority! To the human eye it certainly looked like Caesar called all the shots. But who was really in control of the whole situation? Caesar? No way. The Scripture leaves no doubt that God was sovereignly moving world events at that time to set the stage for the birth of the Savior of mankind. Mighty Caesar was but a pawn in the hand of almighty God! (See Proverbs 21:1.)

One of the Old Testament prophets had predicted that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem of Judea (Micah 5:2). But Bethlehem was just a little "one-horse town" and Mary was living in the north, in the Galilean town of Nazareth (v4). For Mary to travel over rough roads for approximately 100 miles in her condition hardly seemed likely, or even possible. But God moved Caesar and the world to make it happen and the Messiah was born right on time--in Bethlehem!

The lesson of the setting certainly has an application for today. God is still in control of the world situation. World rulers and political leaders may appear to be calling all the shots, but God is still on his throne and in ultimate control. His plan of preparing the world stage for the return of Jesus Christ is being worked out right on schedule. His plans for our lives as individuals are also being worked out according to His purpose for each one of us. We may not completely understand God's dealings with us any more than Mary and Joseph understood why God allowed such "hardships" to come to them. Think of the stigma connected with this birth in reference to gossiping friends and relatives. Think of the "no room in the inn" experience at the time of Mary's labor. Think of the trauma of the escape by night to Egypt because of Herod's plan to massacre the babies of Bethlehem. (See Matthew 2:13-16.)

But just as God at that time was doing something big and wonderful in the lives of Mary and Joseph through all of these trying circumstances, so He is in control of our life situations today. And in spite of hardships, we can know that everything is being worked out for our ultimate blessing. (See Romans 8:28-29.) It is important to observe that there is no record of Joseph or Mary ever complaining or resisting God's ways. They humbly submitted to God's control of all their circumstances. What about us?

The Shepherds

There are also a few lessons from the shepherds in this Scripture. Remember that shepherds were not exactly at the pinnacle of society in that day. In fact, they were on one of the lower rungs of the social ladder--just "simple folk". But God chose to bring the greatest good news of history to these common people first. The good news of a Savior for all mankind was not announced first to Caesar Augustus and the "big people" in Rome. And the religious leaders of the Jews were not the first to hear the good news either, even though the voice of God through prophets and angels had not spoken to the nation for 400 years. It was to simple shepherds watching their sheep at night that God chose to bring the greatest announcement of all time. God's estimate of the "important people" of this world is a lot different than man's.

God is still bringing His good news to common people. Salvation is not offered only to the intellectual or the elite of society. The good news is for everyone because God cares for everyone. Do we? Are we sharing the good news of the Lord Jesus with everyone? Most of us must confess that too often we neglect or are even reluctant to share Christ with the social unfits or misfits and other "simple folk" that don't seem to have it all together. Let us not forget that God shared His greatest good news first with the shepherds.

Some other lessons from the shepherds are found in their reaction to the good news. The shepherds did not question the message from God, nor did they delay in acting upon that message. They went "straight to Bethlehem - with haste" (v15-16). No wonder their faith was rewarded. Those who doubt the word of God today need to learn this lesson from the shepherds. Is it possible that this is why your faith has been so joyless lately? (See John 15:11.) The shepherds had even more than a "God said it--I believe it--That settles it" type of faith. They acted on what God said.

So often today Christians stop short of this action phase of faith. They wouldn't question the Bible for a minute, but they fail to act on God's Word. Take, for example, our Lord's words to us in Matthew 6:25-34. There we are told not to be anxious about anything because God will take care of all the really necessary things for living if we trust Him and honor Him. Do we believe these verses? Of course! Then why are we so uptight about everything all the time? Because we don't really acton the Word of God. The shepherds have a lot to teach us about faith in action.

Verse 20 shows us another reaction of the shepherds to the good news. They returned. Returned where? To their homes and families and sheep, of course. Although they had seen the Savior and experienced the great joy that the angels had predicted (v10), they went back to their responsibilities as husbands and fathers and shepherds. The difference was that they returned to their responsibilities glorifying and praising God (v20).

Some Christians have the idea that when you become a believer or have a "mountaintop experience" with the Lord, everything is supposed to dramatically and drastically change. Drop out of school, resign from secular employment, leave mundane duties and responsibilities in order to be free to serve and praise the Lord! Such thinking is unbiblical, for sure! Commitment to Christ should result in our beingbetter students and employees and more responsible people. We no longer procrastinate in our assignments! We pay back our loans--soon! We show up where we're supposed to, when we're supposed to! It is true that the Lord may direct us to new areas of responsibility as our priorities change and we mature in Him. But we don't praise and glorify God by turning our backs on present responsibilities. Like the shepherds, we praise and glorify Him by returning to those same responsibilities as changed people.

The Sign

Finally, there is the lesson of the sign. The sign that God had visited His people and that the Savior had come was a little baby, wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger. How unique! Why not thunder and lightning? Why not a great earthquake? Why not sky-writing? Why not at least a halo around the baby? Because the sign itself portrayed the good news: God had become man! The eternal Son of God, the One who had created the universe, stripped Himself of His outward manifestations of glory and majesty and took on manhood by being born as a human baby. From heaven's highest glory to the lowliest of conditions on earth - wrapped as a peasant baby in strips of cloth and placed in a stone feeding trough for animals.

The sign not only authenticated God's message, but it proved the depth and extent of God's love for mankind. And we know the stoop our Lord took did not stop at the manger. In order to atone for our sins, He went on to die in ignominy on a Roman cross--the supreme proof of God's love. (See Philippians 2:5-8.) What is the sign that God gives today to authenticate His message of good news and prove His continual love for people? It is not fantastic displays in the heavens or great miracles on earth. No, the sign today is similar to what it was then--the life of the Lord Jesus in common ordinary surroundings. Christ lives within every Christian. Our bodies are like the strips of cloth. The more humble and lowly we Christians become, the more the life and love of the Savior can be seen in us. (See 2 Corinthians 4:7-11.) This is the way that God has chosen to let His Person be seen by the world today. Is your life a sign which authenticates and proves God's love?
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