In today’s modern world, the materialistic hype and spin of our culture surrounds us and constantly tries to squeeze us into its mold, especially during what has been traditionally known as the “Christmas” season. Many people, especially professing Christians, use this season of the year as an excuse to become willingly ensnared by the idol of materialism (Matt. 6:24). However, this is the time of year when many Christians genuinely celebrate the incarnation and first advent of the Messiah who is known as Immanuel, God with us (Matt. 1:23). Many faithful believers the world over take this time of year to meditate on the wonder and greatness of our God, Who before the universe was created, decreed to send His Son into this sin-cursed world, to save sinners by bringing them under the care of the Great Shepherd, who would die for sinners (John 10:10, 15; Rom. 5:8).
Historically, what we now call “Christmas” was originally known as the “Christ-mass”, a celebration that was developed within the early Roman Catholic Church and was designed to counter the rival pagan festivals that were held at the end of each year. Many have heard about the ancient pagan festivals of Saturnalia which occurred at the end of December of each year and some have even said that the birth of the pagan god Mithra was on December 25th. Either way, the term “Christmas” as we understand it today, does have many pagan elements, but not necessarily because it developed as a rival celebration in opposition to the pagan gods that were prevalent within the
Thus, my purpose today will not be to rail against all the ancient and medieval pagan elements that may have crept into the modern form of what is known as “Christmas” simply because neither you nor I have any personal and absolute connection to neither ancient nor medieval pagan practices. More importantly, I want to discuss the problem of the trading of the commemoration of the advent of Christ with the materialistic blasphemy and selfishness that has taken place and offer a biblical solution for this problem.
Christ’s first advent is supposed to be a message to the world that Christians can celebrate and experience joy not through false gods and materialism, but through the fact that God the Son was incarnated as a man (John 1:14). However, the advent celebration of the birth of the Savior has veered far into materialistic idolatry for several reasons, one of which is a lack of seriousness about God, Christ, and the Bible. Listen to what Evangelical Greek Scholar, Daniel Wallace states regarding the marginalization of Christ and the watering down of the gospel in the contemporary evangelical church,
Even with the proliferation of Bibles today, Christians are reading their Bibles less and less. I believe the evangelical church has only 50 years of life left. 50 years left of evangelicalism because of marginalization of the Word of God. We need another Reformation! The enemy of the gospel now is not religious hierarchy but moral anarchy, not tradition but entertainment. The enemy of the gospel is Protestantism run amock; it is an anti-intellectual, anti-knowledge, feel-good faith that has no content and no convictions. Part of the communal repentance that is needed is a repentance about the text [“the text” = the text of Scripture – DSS]. And even more importantly, there must be a repentance with regard to Christ our Lord. Just as the Bible has been marginalized, Jesus Christ has been ‘buddy-ized.’ His transcendence and majesty are only winked at, as we turn him into the genie in the bottle, beseeching God for more conveniences, more luxury, less hassle, and a life without worries or lack of comfort. He no longer wears the face that the apostles recognized. Or, as Erasmus remarked, “When you read the Greek New Testament, you can see the face of Jesus more clearly than if you were one of his disciples”! A bit of hyperbole, but the point is worth underscoring: The God we worship today no longer resembles the God of the Bible. Unless we return to him through a reading and digesting of the scriptures—through a commitment to the text, the evangelical church will become irrelevant, useless, dead.
These are strong words that should issue words of warning to lazy Christians. When you fully grasp what Dr. Wallace is saying about today’s contemporary evangelical church, you do indeed get the idea that God is “warm and fuzzy,” and almost acts like a “genie in a bottle” that is here to minister to our “felt-needs.” When you speak with modern evangelicals, you sometimes get the idea that they often view Jesus as a limp-wristed, pale-faced teacher of love and peace who came to help everyone get along and look over their differences. You get the idea that Jesus is like a slot machine where you can put a prayer in the slot and out pops your wish. In today’s shallow world of Christianity, where marketing the gospel seems to be more important than actually preaching it, where does a true, Biblical commemoration of Christ’s birth fit in? In light of this materialistic type of attitude, is it any wonder that the modern-day church has failed to impact the culture with the message of the Biblical Jesus?
As a man who loves the Lord Jesus Christ and this local flock, I am so much against what the world does during that time of year because it does absolutely nothing to give God the glory for the Incarnation of His Son, Jesus Christ. In light of the fact that the world doesn’t give glory and praise to God for the birth of His Son, I want to take the time this morning to commemorate the incarnation and first advent of the One who died to make sinners clean. This opportunity should not happen just once a year, but should be done every day, and particularly any time the Lord's people gather together. When we celebrate the first advent of Christ, we must remember that one of the most significant events in human history is this: God became flesh! Today we will discuss this significant historical event and the importance of giving glory to God in our commemoration of it and we will do so under four main points:
- The Shepherd’s Had Proper Reverence and Fear of God (vv. 8-9)
- The Angels Gave Proper and Due Glory to God (vv. 13-14).
- Those Who Heard Wondered and Pondered the Glory of God (vv. 18-19)
- The Shepherd’s Rejoiced because of the Truth of God (v. 20).
EXPOSITION AND APPLICATION
Successfully carrying out a census like this would have been a massive undertaking for the Roman Empire and the travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem would have certainly taxed Mary and Joseph physically as she was near to giving birth. The text tells us in verse 6 “the days were completed for her to give birth” meaning, that the time was fulfilled for Christ to come into the world scene just as God had predetermined (Gal. 4:4). Indeed the world scene was ripe for the Messiah. The Pax Romana had been successfully established by Emperor Octavius, which allowed for the reasonably safe travel that Mary and Joseph experienced. The over 500 year old prophecy of
Now, it was customary for newborn Jewish infants to be securely and warmly wrapped in strips of cloth (evsparga,nwsen) as we see of Jesus in verse 7. However, the feeding trough, or manger (as is commonly called) that Jesus was laid in was not a common sight. Given the census that was being taken by the Romans,
- The Shepherds Had Proper Reverence and Fear of God (vv. 8-9)
Luke 2:8-9 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened.
The words “terribly frightened” in verse 9 (evfobh,qhsan fo,bon me,gan) can literally be translated “they were made very fearful.” In the visible light of the glory of the Lord these Shepherds had the proper response to the divine message. They were fearful at the presence of the angel because they were sinners and were accustomed to the teaching from the OT that angels were often messengers of God’s coming judgment. We also see this same fearful response exude from God-lovers in the OT period when they were confronted with the glory and power of God. We especially see this same attitude of fear in Zechariah in
1. Among the various occupations that were held by Jews at the time of Christ, being a shepherd was one of the most lowly. Shepherds were generally considered untrustworthy and their work made them ceremonially unclean according to the Law of Moses. Therefore, we see that God didn’t choose to first reveal the good news of the newly born Divine Messiah to Kings, Priests, and Prelates, but instead he chose to reveal the first proclamation of the gospel to the social outcasts of the day. Paul confirms that this is often the way God does things in
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, 29 so that no man may boast before God.
Shepherds were looked down upon by the general Jewish community as a whole, and they were considered so untrustworthy that they weren’t even allowed to give testimony in a court of law. So, we talk about the goodness, grandeur, and glory of God yet we fail to realize that God chose to first tell His good news to people who were basically our modern equivalent of those who are referred to as “trailer trash”.
2. In both the Old and New Testaments, shepherds symbolize those who care for God’s people, including the Lord Himself (cf. Ps. 23:1; Isa. 40:11; Jer. 23:1-4; Heb. 13:20;
Again, verse 9 shows that the shepherds were absolutely terrified by the visible manifestation of the glory of God, something that neither Zechariah in
And so, an angel, brilliant and strong stands “suddenly” before them (v. 9) and the manifestation of God’s presence and power flashed about them and so they were properly “terrified.” These weren’t the cute little chubby angels with pretty little pink cheeks that you see gracing your local Christian bookstores. No, this was a representative of God’s heavenly army, one who stood in the strength and power of Yahweh, and so they were absolutely terrified! They were terrified as sinners; which explains why the angel has to say literally as it reads in the original language, “Stop being fearful!” (mh. fobei/sqe) So, the angel then proclaims wonderfully in verse 10, “I bring you good news” meaning – “I am bringing you the announcement of the gospel for the first time!” Oh brethren, how wonderful that God the Father, through the mediation of a heavenly angel first announces the gospel to what would be the equivalent of lowly, 1st century “trailer trash”!
And so the announcement of the birth of the promised Divine Savior is given in verse 11 (for today in the city of
- The Angels Gave Proper and Due Glory to God (vv. 13-14).
And so the lone angel, standing and giving the first proclamation of the gospel to lowly shepherds is suddenly joined by “a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” (vv. 13-14). This is the grand climax of this narrative, where the lowly, trailer-trash shepherds are exposed to the glorious splendor of not just one angel, but now an army of angels giving glory to the God of heaven for the birth of Messiah Jesus! How truly awesome that event must have been for them! These angels, having known and experienced Christ’s pre-incarnate glory, were all too familiar with His riches and majesty (cf. Isaiah 6:1-4; John 12:41). They also knew that man was fallen sinner, desperately in need of salvation from sin. And so, they knew of God’s provision of salvation for mankind in Jesus and they wanted to give all glory, praise, and honor to God for this unmerited gift bestowed upon sinful man! How wonderful that those who are not direct recipients of Christ’s salvation should give honor and glory to the God of heaven for it! Was it not the apostle Paul who, when thinking about God’s love shown in Christ said, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 8:9; 9:15) And was not this love very probably included among “the things which angels desire to look into” (1 Peter 1:12) but very probably cannot? Nevertheless, they gave glory to God for this gift to sinful man!
Now, it is important to point out that the
“The meaning seems to be, not that divine peace can be bestowed only where human good will is already present, but that at the birth of the Saviour God’s peace rests on those whom he has chosen in accord with his good pleasure.” It is also interesting to note that several similar expressions have been found in the Dead Sea Scrolls such as “the sons of his [God’s] good pleasure,” and “the elect of his [God’s] good pleasure.”
So, this proclamation of the angels: that God’s true peace is bestowed on those whom He has sovereignly chosen for salvation; was proclaimed in the first presentation of the gospel to sinful men! Oh Christians, how we would do well to follow after the practice of these angels and preach the gospel of God’s sovereign grace to sinners. We should really do nothing else as we wait for Christ’s second advent, for this is part of the good news that these angels glorified God and blessed man with at Jesus’ first advent!
And so the shepherds, filled with excitement after receiving the gospel directly from God through the angels, went to
- Those Who Heard Wondered and Pondered the Glory of God (vv. 18-19)
It should be no surprise to us that there was wonder and amazement at the things that the shepherds said. Think about it: an imperial decree, angelic messages, divine signs to tell you who and where to look, a virgin-born child in
Veiled in flesh the Godhead see:
Hail th’Incarnate Deity.
And of course, wonder and amazement is to be expected with the Jews, but something more is seen in Jesus’ mother Mary. Verse 19 states, “But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” Notice that verse 19 says that “Mary treasured these things . . .” This sentence is literally translated “But Mary treasured up all these words . . .” meaning that she was putting it all together and mulling over it in her mind. She had been told by her betrothed husband about the divine dreams he had been given (Matt. 1:20ff), she remembered what she was told by the angel Gabriel (Lk. 1:26ff), she thought about all the contingencies that lead to her having to be in Bethlehem to give birth to her promised Son (Mic. 5:2); and what the shepherds told her about the announcement of the angels (Lk. 2:17). Yes, she was treasuring all these sayings up and “pondering them in her heart.” She stops to consider the meaning of it all. She did this later in Jesus’ life after they found Him in the temple as a young boy questioning the religious leaders of the day (1:51), and eventually, we see Jesus’ own mother worshipping the very One to whom she gave human birth (Acts 1:14). Her prayerful “pondering” of all those things God had been doing and was going to do through her Divine Son produced in her a steadfast faith that had been foreordained from all eternity! We also have a fantastic end of the story for those lowly shepherds too!
- The Shepherd’s Rejoiced because of the Truth of God (v. 20).
Brothers and sisters, have you given due honor, praise, and glory to God for the greatest gift the world has ever known or have you become ensnared by the idols of materialism and selfishness that are so prevalent during the Advent season? Have you continually sought to give glory to God by faithfully proclaiming as well as living out the truth of God’s sovereign grace in your lives? Have you, like Mary sought to carefully meditate and consider God’s active hand in your life or have you become dull, insensitive, and ignorant of God’s dealings in your life? Do you rejoice at the giving of the greatest Gift the world has ever known or will know, or have traded the beauty of the Divine Savior for a mess of materialistic pottage? Oh brothers and sisters, I admonish you to repent and turn from your dependence on material things, for they will rust and corrupt, they can be stolen by thieves, they can be repossessed by the empires of this world. But the greatest gift the world has ever known, “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (v. 11) can never be taken away from you, for He is the giver of all things, and in Him we find the greatest display of God’s love for your sorry soul.
 Walter L. Liefeld, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 8, Luke, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), 845. It is important also to note that Liefeld points out that by setting up a rival celebration, another pagan celebration called “Sol Invictus” or the
“Unconquerable Sun” was indeed conquered by the celebration of the nativity.
 I have found it very difficult to see why events and practices from someone else, in a far distant past, unknown (or at least not taken seriously one way or another) by myself and all my 'pagan' acquaintances (cf.
implements of the celebration of the Advent season (i.e., Christmas trees) should enslave me.
 I.e: “The Purpose Driven” this and that type philosophy which has run rampant in such as books with the titles, “The Purpose Driven Life, The Purpose Driven Church, etc.”
 This decree would’ve been sent via the Roman Senate because the phrase "from the emperor” indicates that . Octavian was Caesar from 27 B.C. to A.D. 14. He was known for his administrative prowess. The passive infinitive verb avpogra,fesqai (apographesthai) translated “should be registered” (so
 Josephus (Ant. 18.1.1 [18.1–2]) only mentions a census in A.D. 6, which is obviously way too late for this setting. Such a census would have been a massive undertaking; it could have started under one ruler and emerged under another, to whose name it became attached. This is one possibility to explain the data. Another is that Quirinius, who became governor in
 Aramaic paraphrases of the OT originating in the last few centuries BC, and committed to writing about AD 500. See F.F. Bruce, The Books and the Parchments, Fleming H. Revell Co., Westwood, p. 133, Rev. Ed. 1963; Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Zondervan,
 Nigel Turner, Grammatical Insights into the New Testament (
 W. Ramsay, Bearing of Recent Discoveries on the Trustworthiness of the New Testament, Baker,
 Ex. 14:31; 1 Sam. 12:18; 1 Kings 18:3; 1 Chron. 16:25; Psa. 47:2; 76:11; 96:4; Jon. 1:16; Mal. 1:14, 3:16.
 Strack and Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrasch., Vol. II, 113.
 I am in no way disparaging those who live in mobile homes with this observation. I am simply pointing to the fact that just as people are stereotypically mislabeled today by the conditions they live and work by other sinful people who think they are better off materially, so it was with the field shepherds in 1st century
 William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary on Luke, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1978), 149.
 fobei/sqe is the present middle imperative 2nd person plural (deponent) verb from fobe,omai.
 This phrase in verse 14, “Glory to God in the highest” is what has been traditionally known as the Gloria in Excelsis Deo, translated from the old Latin Vulgate Bible. See footnote at
 Bruce M. Metzger, A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament, (Stuttgart, Germany: German Bible Society, 1994), 111.
 Hendriksen, 156.
 Ibid., 158.
 Walter L. Liefeld, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Vol. 8, Luke, 847.