Christmas at Work
12/30/2017 1:27:43 AM
December 24, 2017
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Luke 2:8-20
Imagine you’re at work. Or, if you don’t work, perhaps you’re in school, or wherever you find yourself on a regular basis with people you know to some degree. Imagine the course of your conversation turns towards the meaning of Christmas. What would people say is the meaning of Christmas? What is the “holiday spirit” all about? Think about specific people. What do you think the specific people you work with would say? Perhaps some of these people are Christians, perhaps not. Even if they are Christians, in my experience that doesn’t mean they have a good grasp on the meaning of Christmas. Christians are more likely to say “Christmas is about the birth of Jesus,” which is what it celebrates, but is that what Christmas means? How does that inform the “holiday spirit?”
Are you allowed to say “Merry Christmas” at work? Or do you have to say, “Happy Holidays”? What do people you work with say? What do they think this season is about? What do they think Christmas means? Perhaps they would say Christmas is about family. That’s a common one. Or about giving. Maybe they’ll say Christmas is about good will towards other people. I know Amy and I love watching Christmas movies this time of year. In a number of movies they say Christmas is about all sorts of things! Rarely do they say it’s about Jesus. One movie, relatively old, actually has a very postmodern discussion of Christmas. They say, “That’s the true meaning of Christmas- it means something different to everyone…” Then somebody accidentally ignites sewer gas with a cigar and blows everything up.
The video we watched was about how to get in the holiday spirit. Basically, the video said, “Fake it ‘til you make it.” That is, do holiday stuff until you’re in the Christmas spirit. It then went on to describe “good” things to do at Christmas, like give toys to or volunteer with the needy, count your blessings, write Christmas letters to people and things like that. Do these sound like things people at work or school might say about Christmas? Does this sound like the kind of answers you might get in a discussion with them about the meaning of Christmas? These are good things, but they are not what Christmas means, they are not the meaning of Christmas!
Suppose, while having your conversation at work about the meaning of Christmas, a shining figure appeared the in the room. Suppose the shining man then told you, “Fear not! I bring you triumphal good news with earth shattering consequences! Today a baby has been born who is going to save you from your sins, he is the Anointed One, the King! You will find him in house in a nearby village, wrapped in a blanket, lying in the dog bed.”
What would you do? How would your co-workers respond? You see the angel told the shepherds, who were at work, exactly what Christmas is about and what it means. We tend to forget what Christmas is about, even as Christians. Our surrounding culture wants the good things that go with Christmas, like gift giving, volunteering, cheer, good will, generosity and peace. But they don’t want the Jesus who comes with it. They don’t want a saviour because that means they are sinful and need to be saved!
But even as Christians, we can forget what Christmas means. We remember what it’s about- the birth of Jesus, but we forget what that means. Christmas is about the arrival of God on earth to save us from our sin, redeem all of creation and defeat death! That’s the meaning of Christmas. All the other stuff is a result of that happening. Let’s take a look….
Please read Luke 2:8-20. Notice that the birth of Jesus itself is covered in less than 7 verses, but the announcement about him by the angels and the response of the shepherds is 12 verses!
What It Says
Who were these shepherds? What do we know about them? What can we surmise? Likely, they were looking after sheep destined for sacrifice in the temple. So on one level, Jesus means the shepherds will be out of a job soon! But is there significance to the fact that God’s first announcement about the birth of his boy was
made to shepherds? What do we know about shepherds in those days?
First, shepherds had a long, positive history in Israel. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and David all spent time as herdsmen or shepherds. So it was a job that had a glorious history in the Jewish mindset. Yet, within a few generations of Jesus, shepherds had developed a bad reputation. A number of ancient sources, later than Jesus but still ancient, describe shepherds as despised men for a couple reasons. Rabbis didn’t like them because their job meant they could not follow the rules for religious purity. In other situations, because they moved around a lot, they were prone to theft. As two commentators put it, they tended to confuse “thine” with “mine.” Eventually, it got to the point where shepherds could not offer testimony in court.
So we don’t know, exactly, how shepherds were viewed in Jesus’ day. They had a rich, noble history, but their reputation was on a downward slide. What we do know, is that if nothing else, the shepherds were humble, average people! The announcement of Jesus’ birth was not made to wealthy men, nor to religious men. It was not made in the temple or in the palace. It was made in an open field, to common, ordinary people who happened to be at work.
While these average men are at work, suddenly an angel of the Lord appears before them, shining with the glory of the Lord! Notice the difference between this appearance and Gabriel’s appearances to Zechariah and Mary. In Gabriel’s appearances we are not told what he looked like. This angel, however, we are told was a shining figure.
The angel tells them, “fear not!” because fear is the natural response of unholy people to the holiness of God! The angel comes with good news. The word “good news” is the word from which we get the word “gospel” and it means “triumphal good news” with earth shattering consequences. It is the word used when the emperor had a son who would be his heir- which had consequences for the whole empire! It was the word used in the LXX (Septuagint- the Greek translation of the Old Testament) for God’s deliverance of his people.
The angel says that this “good news” is for all people. The original hearers would have interpreted this as “for all the people of Israel” but Luke’s readers, when they finish Acts, come to realize that this is good news for all people, not just Jews!
The angel then gives the core of the good news- a baby has been born! This baby is the saviour, the Christ, the Lord. These are 3 titles for Jesus. He is the deliverer, he is the Anointed One and the Master. Lord is the word used in the LXX for Yahweh (as well as for earthly masters). Anointed One is a reference to the promised king in the line of David who would deliver the people of Israel. Saviour was another reference to the promised saviour. Little did the people that day know that Jesus had come to save people from their alienation from God, not just their Roman oppressors.
The sign of the birth of this great king is that he would be found wrapped as all babies in strips of cloth to keep his limbs straight, but also that he would be lying in a manger! How humble! What a contrast! “The contrast between the birth’s commonness and the child’s greatness could not be greater.” [Darrell L. Bock, Luke, p. 55]
Notice that the angel did not say “in a stable.” Rather, he said, “In a manger.” Houses in those days, in that region, and even up until recent times, had mangers carved in the floor because people who owned a few animals didn’t have barns. They kept the animals in the main room of the house at night for warmth and security. So they put mangers in the floor for animals to eat. Those same houses also had a single guest room, a word in Greek that can also be translated “guest house” or “inn,” and we are told in v. 7 that the guest room, or the guest quarters, in the house was full, so Jesus was laid in the manger [in the main room of the house where everybody in the family slept and where the animals were kept for warmth and safety]. [Kenneth Bailey, Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes, p. 27-36]
The angel gave this information about the manger because, although there might be a few infants in Bethlehem that night, only 1 would be in a manger! He also gave it as evidence or a sign that what he was saying was true. He gave the shepherds a way to verify his message from God. God often gives us evidence in a form we can handle, specialized to our context. To the Magi, the sign or evidence God gave was a star, something they would understand in their context.
Then a host of angels appeared. The word for “host” is a military word for an “army.” It is fascinating that an army of angels appeared to announce peace! First they gave glory to God and then announced peace on
earth to those select people upon whom God’s favour rests. Glory to God necessarily comes before we can have peace. We have to acknowledge God and submit to him if we are to find peace.
How did the shepherds respond to all this? First, they investigated. They went to Bethlehem to consider the sign or the evidence given to them by the angel. There, they verified the message of God through the angel. They found the child in a manger! We can surmise that they told Mary and Joseph how they found them, that they told them about the angels and their message. Having verified the angel’s words, they took to heart the message of the angel about who the baby was. They told this to all the people they met. That is, they testified to the truth of what they had seen and heard. And people were amazed at their testimonies. They glorified God as they went back to work and praised God as they continued in their everyday activities.
What It Means
So what does all this mean? First, notice that there was no flourish on God’s part. If ever God wanted a chance to show off, this was it! But instead, God’s boy was born in an average house, that will filled to bursting. He had to be lain in a manger! In modern terms, think of it as a house filled with people, people on the pull out couch even, and Mary has a home birth. The house is so crowded, they lay the baby in the dog bed!
Contrast this with John the Baptist’s birth. It was announced in a temple, to a priest. He was born and there was a crowd. But it was Jesus’ birth that angels announced!
The first thing we see from the nature of Jesus’ birth is that Jesus is accessible. He was born in an average home, to average people and his birth was announced to average, “blue collar” shepherds. He was not an average child, but he was accessible to average people. All those barriers to God in the Old Testament, barring people from the presence of God, are gone! Or at least they are beginning to crumble at the first Christmas. They are finally, fully removed on Easter. But the accessibility of God to average people began on Christmas.
Second, we are to give glory to God for what he has done on Christmas. That’s the song of the angels. The triumphal good news with earth shattering consequences, the birth of the Saviour, Christ and Lord should generate a response in us and from us at Christmas. We should respond in worship and glorify God! That is the meaning of Christmas- responding to God!
The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks the question early on, “What is the chief end [or purpose] of humanity?” The answer is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever!” We were made to glorify God. That is our main purpose in existence. When we glorify God, as we were designed to do, that bring peace. That brings “shalom” – which includes everything for our good. It is a well-rounded peace, between us and God and between us and one another.
But the problem is, we don’t want to submit. We don’t want to submit to God or anyone. And so we don’t glorify God. This is why we need a saviour in the first place! And that is the triumphal good news- God has sent a saviour so that we can be reconciled to God and transformed in our attitude, in our hearts, so that we will glorify God as appropriate.
Our human nature, though, doesn’t want to submit. Jesus is Lord and that bothers us. So many people try to transform Christmas. They want to remove the parts of Christmas they don’t like, which really means they want to remove the parts of Jesus that require us to submit, to be humbled, to repent and turn from sin. We see this all around us at Christmas, and it should serve as a reminder of the real meaning of Christmas in the first place.
At the core of Christmas is the fact that we need a saviour, that Jesus is him, and that we need to submit to him to be reconciled to God through him. But people don’t like that, so they try to change Christmas. They want to keep the happy parts, the rewards of being reconciled to God, without the offensive parts about sin, submission and repentance. They try to make Christmas about family, about giving, about good will. All of which are good things, but they are not what Christmas is about. And even though they are good things, when they are used to replace Jesus, they become idols.
So what, then, are we to do? Look at the shepherds. What do they do? They hear the message, they investigate it. They verify that the message is true by verifying the evidence. They relate their story to Mary and Joseph we can assume. Then they testify to others about what they have heard and seen. They praise God and glorify him wherever they go, including going back to work.
This is how they respond to what God has done. Worship is our response to what God has done and who God is, so this means the shepherds engaged in a variety of forms of worship! When we do something as an
appropriate response to God, to who he is and what he has done, that is worship! The same action, though, done for different reasons, not a response to God, is not worship. Our motive make all the difference!
The shepherds celebrated Christmas by worshipping God! It is worth noting that they probably talked with Mary and Joseph about the angels. (Why else did they show up?) So another way to worship God is to encourage one another by sharing our testimonies of what God has done in our lives.
So why does all this matter? What are we to do with it?
It’s easy to get Christmas wrong. Most of us in the West do! Sometimes this is out of an attempt to reject Jesus but keep Christmas. Other times, though, well-meaning Christians do things with the wrong motives. And so we get a commercialized, sanitized “holiday season” with “holiday trees” and the like.
Christians want to keep Christ in Christmas, which is good. But we can’t just make it about Jesus’ birth. We have to also make it about who Jesus is, his identity- the Saviour, Christ the Lord part! In Jesus, God is made accessible to average people.
The best way to celebrate Christmas is to worship God, to glorify God for what he has done. This is not only the chief purpose of Christmas, but the chief purpose of humanity! So how do we glorify God at Christmas?
We glorify God when we hear, investigate, verify, relate, testify and praise. We glorify God when we hear the story of what he has done. We glorify God when we investigate it, weigh the evidence, look for the signs. We glorify God when we verify that it’s true, because he has given us evidence. We glorify God when we relate our experience to other believers for our mutual encouragement and when we testify to those who don’t believe or haven’t heard. And finally, praise God directly for what he has done.
Where are we to do this? At church? Yes, but not just there! We are to glorify God wherever we go- home, church, work, shopping, wherever. Tell people your testimony of what God has done in the world and in your life.
As you celebrate Christmas, keep in mind what God has done. Why we do things is more important than what we do. So keeping your mind and heart centered on what God has done will keep your activity worshipful. When we give gifts, are cheerful, give toys to the needy, whatever we do at Christmas, why we do it is the most important part. Do it as a response to what God has done. Do it because Jesus has arrived and he is our saviour! We are celebrating his arrival.
Maybe you have some difficult family you’re going to visit in the next few days. Maybe money is tight and there are not as many gifts under the tree as usual. Maybe you are going to be exhausted by travel over the Christmas holidays. Whatever situation you face, keep in mind that Jesus has arrived! Keep in mind that God is accessible. Remember that Jesus is our Master and that is what Christmas is about. When you keep these things front and centre, the other things fall into place.
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