In Luke 1, the angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah the priest and tells him that his wife, Elizabeth, is going to have a son who will announce the arrival of Israel’s Messiah. When their baby is born, they name him John. We now call him John the Baptist. Gabriel then appears to Mary and tell her she has been chosen to be the mother of the Messiah.
Luke 2 starts with Mary and her husband, Joseph, going to the town of Bethlehem, where their baby is born. Mary gave birth in a stable because there was no room for them in the normal living quarters. She then placed the baby, named Jesus, in a manger. A manger is a feeding trough.
Then the following events happened. Luke 2:8-20 – 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
It’s easy to look at the world today and ask, “Where is God? Is he even here?” Storms and other natural disasters kill thousands of people and destroy billions of dollars’ worth of property every year. Religious extremists oppress or kill those who don’t follow their narrow interpretations of faith. In our own country, the middle class is shrinking and our national debt is soaring. We all have problems in life that aren’t fair. And, to make matters worse, we’ve taken these problems to God in prayer and it doesn’t appear he’s answered them.
Zechariah, Elizabeth, Joseph and Mary could have asked the same questions about God. For centuries, their nation was living under the oppressive thumb of foreign empires. The Babylonians overran them and sent them into exile. They were followed by the Medes and Persians who were followed by the Greeks. Now, the Roman Empire was in control. Taxes were way too high and most of them lived in extreme poverty. Life brought other problems that weren’t fair and God hadn’t resolved them. These people were longing for their Messiah to arrive and deliver them.
Now, God was moving in miraculous ways. The Messiah had been born. The sad thing is almost everyone missed it. Matthew tells us the religious leaders didn’t even investigate when the Wise Men told them the Savior was there. This meant that almost everyone else in Israel missed it too.
However, there were a few people who had the privilege of knowing what God was doing. Among them were a few shepherds.
Shepherds were considered by most people to be outcasts in Jewish society. They didn’t have fences and barns like most sheep farmers in the United States have today. They basically had to live out in the fields night and day with their flocks to protect them. This meant they were usually dirty and smelly, uneducated and, worst of all, weren’t able to keep the Old Testaments laws which required them to attend worship events at the temple in Jerusalem. Yet God chose to reveal the Messiah to them.
What was their reaction? They left their flocks to go and see what God had done. They didn’t say, “Well, we’re busy now. We don’t have time to bother with God. Besides, our flocks are valuable. We have to stay here and work so we can protect everything we’ve worked so hard to get.”
Their instructions were to look for a specific thing – a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. When they found him, they would find the power of God revealed on the earth. The manger is mentioned twice in Luke’s version of Jesus’ birth. It was a signpost pointing it what God was doing. The manger itself wasn’t that important. The baby lying in the manger was what mattered.
Why did the baby matter? He is the Savior, God himself in human form. Jesus came down from heaven to be born, live and then die on a cross so we could have forgiveness for our sins.
Even though the world we live in is still full of natural disasters, evil people and personal problems, our sins are forgiven if we’ve accepted Jesus as our Savior and are living as his disciples.
As we celebrate the birth of our Savior, we mustn’t lose sight of the fact God is working in other ways too. There are signposts if we’re willing to look for them. Marriages are being strengthened and restored because husbands and wives are willing to apply Jesus’ teachings to their relationships. People are allowing the Holy Spirit to lead them into a closer walk with Jesus. Broken relationships are slowly healing because people are choosing to forgive and move on. Prayers for healing, jobs and other needs are being answered. People all around us are slowly changing from the inside out because Jesus is in them.
While all of these things are wonderful and we should celebrate the fact they’re taking place, we have to look past them and to the one who is making them happen. The shepherds didn’t worship the manger. They worshiped the baby in the manger. We don’t worship the great things happening in our lives. We worship the one who makes them happen.
We must look at the world through the eyes of faith and then go see the things God’s doing around us. If you heard that Jesus appeared to a congregation at Breezewood, would you go and see him? Or would you say, “Well, Snake Spring Valley Church of the Brethren is where I worship. I’ll wait until he decides to come here?” If the only time you go to worship is on Christmas Eve and at Easter, let me say we’re so happy you chose to come and worship with us. However, if Jesus is worth our praise and worship on Christmas Eve, isn’t he also worthy of our praise and worship in March, or June, or any other time for that matter? Are we willing to be like the shepherds and leave our possessions behind to go and look for the signposts that show what God is doing right in front of us?
The world around us isn’t perfect. At times, it’s downright scary. But in the midst of the worry, sorrow and difficulties, there are also great things happening in our lives every day. One of them is that God is moving in us and all around us. At Christmas, we not only celebrate the birth of our Savior. We also rejoice there are signposts all around us which show us God is moving and working in our lives. We just need to go and look for them.