Last week I introduced a five-part Musical Interlude that will take us through the Christmas/New Year seasons. Each week, we will look at one of the four Christmas carols sung at the very first Christmas: Mary’s Magnificant (Luke 1:4-55), the Song of Zacharias (Luke 1:68-79), Simeon’s Song (Luke 2:29-35), and the Angel’s Song (Luke 2:13-14).
This week I will begin with the shortest of them—The Angel’s Song
In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger.” Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
This passage was the focus of James Tyler’s message Sunday morning as Phyllis and I had the opportunity to worship with Springfield Baptist Church. James is serving as their supply pastor. He reminded us that the promised “Messiah, the Lord” was, in reality, God Who “emptied Himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. And when He had come as a man, He humbled Himself” (Philippians 2:7-8a). What an example of servanthood! Jesus modeled it throughout His earthy ministry. One of the more familiar demonstrations of that humble servant heart was when He took a towel and basin and washed His disciples’ feet (John 13:1-20). The ultimate example happened a few hours later when He was willing to stay on the cross to the point of death; thus, providing the sole sufficient blood sacrifice that can atone for our sin.
However, James spent most of his message talking about the shepherds and how they were viewed in the New Testament era. Most of us have a childlike picture of men and boys carrying a shepherd’s staff standing next to a few sheep in a live nativity scene. In reality, they were involved in a livelihood that made them ceremonially unclean—they could not participate in religious services. What’s more, first-century shepherds were generally the type of men who would not have been interested in being involved in anything related to religion. That is with one major exception: making money off of religious activities wouldn’t have bothered them. Some Bible scholars suggest that the shepherds near Bethlehem would have raised sheep and goats that were sold in the temple marketplace.
Because of the census, the Bethlehem shepherds were forced to watch their flocks by night in the open field, thus making livestock shelters temporary housing for the overflowing crowd. Could it have even been possible that the reason these particular Bethlehem shepherds were able to quickly find the baby Jesus was because He laid in one of the mangers they regularly used to feed their sheep?
What kind of a God would humble Himself in such a manner and then make the first announcement in a grand and glorious way to a group of cultural outcasts? Why didn’t He send the Angels to the High Priest’s house? Why not make a grand announcement on the temple mount? No religious leader would have dreamed that shepherds would be the first to know that the Messiah had been born. Luke records that the shepherds “reported the message they were told about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” But their story was obviously not seen as credible. Proof of that reality is seen in the fact that when the Magi came to Herod’s palace looking for the newborn king, no one from Herod’s court nor any of the religious leaders who told him that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem even bothered to go with them on the short journey between Jerusalem and Bethlehem.
Could it be that God wanted the lowliest of the low among us to know that they too are worthy of God’s love and forgiveness? No matter who you are, what you’ve done, or where you live on earth, the Angel’s short chorus is for you:
Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors!
And as is true of today’s choruses, it is worthy of being repeated over and over. God obviously favors the humble and lowly of heart. A constant accusation that was made against Jesus was that “All the tax collectors and sinners were approaching to listen to him. And the Pharisees and scribes were complaining, ‘This man welcomes sinners and eats with them’” (Luke 15:1-2). The balance of Luke 15 records three parables which all speak to God’s efforts to seek and to save that which is lost: Lost Sheep, Lost Coin, and Lost Sons.
If you are one of the humble and lowly who has accepted God’s gracious gift of salvation, then you too can live daily with the boldness of Paul. He experienced salvation and encouragement from God and could boldly declare:
"I give thanks to Christ Jesus our Lord who has strengthened me, because he considered me faithful, appointing me to the ministry—even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an arrogant man. But I received mercy because I acted out of ignorance in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. This saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them. But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate his extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen." (I Timothy 1:12-17)
True believers have the indwelling Holy Spirit, who comes upon us at salvation. To live in constant doubt and fear is to deny the power of our salvation. This Christmas let your voice sing loud of the One who came and died for your sins so that you can boldly cry out “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them.”
Yours in Christ,
Mark R. Elliott, AMS
Retiring in April 2022, Mark R. Elliott served as a Director of Missions (Associational Mission Strategist) in Western Iowa and Eastern Nebraska for almost three decades. He is a strong advocate for obedience and Biblically based disciple making. As such, he knows that making healthy disciples requires Christian leaders to be constantly pursuing spiritual maturity—be lifelong learners. Because of the time constraints of ministry, most pastors focus their reading list on resources that assist them in teaching and preaching the Word of God. As such, books focusing on church health, leadership development, and church growth tend to find their way to the bottom of the stack. With that reality in mind, Mark has written discussion summaries on several books that have helped him to personally grow in Christ and that tend to find themselves on the bottom of most pastor’s stack. Many pastors have found them helpful as they are able to more quickly process great insights from other pastors and authors.
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