ADVENT – WEEK 3
THE SHEPHERDS AND THE ANGELS
AN ENCOUNTER WITH JESUS CHANGES EVERYTHING…FOR THE BETTER!
PREFACE: HAVING THAT ENCOUNTER THIS CHRISTMAS
God loves people…ALL people.
And, because of this, He wants to have an encounter with us – He wants to be in relationship with us; He wants to be with us; He wants us to know Him intimately. And why???
Because God loves people…ALL people.
And 2000 years ago He had the greatest encounter ever with people: He came down from Heaven to live with us as Jesus – God the Son – to walk with us, talk with us, help us, love us, care for us, die for us…
He might now have gone back to Heaven but He chooses to stay with all those who just love Him back – and is with us and in us by His Holy Spirit – forever…
But…He STILL loves to have that incredible, dynamic, encounter with us – and it comes in many different ways.
As we have seen, for Mary it came through a visitation by the angel Gabriel; for Joseph it was through a succession of God-given dreams. For others it is through worship or reading the Word.
But, whatever the way in which we come to encounter God this Christmas, the message today is that such an encounter ALWAYS changes everything…and ALWAYS changes everything for the better.
So, let’s see together how the encounter that the shepherds had with God changed everything…forever…
- Think of a time when you have had an encounter with God. In what way did it change your life?
- Can an encounter with God ever be a “bad” encounter?
THE STORY – FOUND IN LUKE 2: 4-20
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, 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 Saviour 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 favour 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
There are 4 elements to this encounter that I wish to focus on – and so bring to you the wonderful truth that “an encounter with Jesus changes everything – for the better”…
PART 1: “DO NOT BE AFRAID” (V. 10)
It must be 20 years ago that I visited the spectacular American national park of Yosemite…except that I saw practically nothing of it…the snow came down thickly, covering the one road into the park; and the clouds hung like fog, blanking everything out. With the road being cut off, and not being able to see more than one step in front of another, fear began to take its grip on me. And then suddenly, out of the thick mist, the awesome mass of El Capitan appeared and loomed like a monster over us. 3000 feet of sheer, vertical granite from base to peak. I was well-impressed with an image that remains with me to this day. My friend, by my side, explained that mountaineers consider it one of the hardest peaks to climb – and I could see why!
Imagine my amazement, then, when I watched a news item last week about the man who climbed this edifice alone and with no ropes to protect him! Could I have even contemplated trying this? Could you? I experienced fear just thinking about it!
Yet, in an interview the climber, Alex Honnold, declared: “It’s no fun if you’re scared”!
It strikes me that for just about all of us, life is like that mountain face. It’s vast and it’s scary and it feels like we are climbing it without any help and that at any moment we could just lose our grip on it and come crashing down!
The shepherds, no different from any of us, would have found life tough – and often very, very scary. How would they make ends meet? What about all the problems at home? What about if wolves came and attacked the flock – or them!?
And then the angel appears and the first words that are said to them are “do not be afraid”
You see, God knows.
God knows that fear besets mankind: fear of the present, fear of the past catching up with them, fear of an uncertain future; fear of loneliness; fear of financial problems; fear of illness, fear of dying; fear of what happens after death.
But, what if on that “mountain climb of life” we knew – really knew – that Almighty God was with us, by our side, watching over us, ready to support us and catch us when we fall. What if we knew that we could trust Him with our very lives? That “climb” would still be tough, but we wouldn’t be afraid any more. In fact we could even begin to enjoy the challenge of the “climb of life”.
Well, that is JUST what God has offered to all mankind; just what God has promised to all who say they will follow Him and put their hope and trust in Him.
When the angel spoke to the shepherds he was, in effect, saying: “heh! You don’t need to be afraid any longer – ever again in fact – because God is coming down to earth in the form of Jesus and He will be with you always – and when He is with you, you just don’t need to be afraid of anything any longer”.
Do you want this? If you do – and I think you do – then just follow Him from this moment on and see if this is not so – just like the shepherds.
- In what ways does your life sometimes feel like a “cliff climb”?
- Be honest with yourself: what are the things that cause you to feel fear?
- Is “fear” always wrong – always a bad thing?
- Is there, Biblically, anything that we SHOULD be afraid of?
- What are you going to do now when you feel afraid?
PART 2: “I BRING YOU GOOD NEWS THAT WILL CAUSE GREAT JOY FOR ALL THE PEOPLE” (V 10)
Now, Alex Honnold, the man who climbs mountains “free style” says that the thrill of it all brings him great joy. Well…I just can’t see it myself.
I think he means that he gets great pleasure out of the actual climbing of the mountains, great satisfaction out of conquering the mountains, and great delight when he sits at the top and looks out at the stunning views.
When the angel told the shepherds that the Good News would cause great joy, he was talking about a different type of joy – one that was happiness, satisfaction, fulfilment and delight that would be experienced DESPITE the circumstances – despite the pain of the “climb of life”; despite the setbacks on the “climb of life”.
Happiness is a feeling that is always affected by the ups-and-downs of life. When the “climb” is easy then we feel happy; but when it is bad we feel sad. The joy that the angel promised was a happiness that would last inside whether the “climb of life” was good or bad.
And how can this be? When the God of life is with us as we live then we feel the joy of the Lord with us. When we live our lives well, we feel the pleasure of the joy of the Lord. And the day is going to come when we finish our “climb of life” and stand before our Father in Heaven – and then our joy shall be boundless!
But again, the angel makes it clear: we don’t need to be afraid any longer in life and we can have joy throughout all the twists and turns of life – but it relies on us acknowledging Jesus and following Him.
- What things make you “feel” happy?
- What is the “Good News” that brings “joy” to us?
- Are you aware of a joy that perpetually fills you?
- If not, what do you think you can do about it?
PART 3: “PEACE TO THOSE ON WHOM HIS FAVOUR RESTS” (V 14)
Alex Honnold finds incredible peace when he sits alone at the top of a conquered peak. Life doesn’t get much better than this! But, that peace is only temporary. He has to come back down to earth – and if he comes back down to earth with a bump he is NOT going to experience that peace anymore!
So the angel promised peace to those on whom the favour of God rests.
Oh! How mankind wants peace! Man wants peace in the world, peace in the government (oh! Brexit!), peace in the home, peace between nations, peace between families, peace between religions, peace in our hearts, peace in our minds.
And here we have the angels promising peace to the shepherds. What are these angels promising?
Announcing the birth of Jesus Christ they are declaring that all those on whom the favour of God rests will have peace with God, peace with their fellow man, and peace in their hearts.
Do you want to have this peace – even when all those around you seem to have no peace at all? Of course you do!
And who are those on “whom His favour rests”? Well, to be honest God loves ALL of you – and wants ALL of you to know His peace. But, He just finds it hard to rest His favour upon so many of you – because you won’t stand still, because you won’t come to Him, because you don’t allow Him to bestow His peace upon you!
What are you going to do? You don’t have to be afraid any longer, you can have the joy of the Lord in your heart at all times, and if you just let Him, then you have know His peace every day of your lives – just like the shepherds.
- Consider these 3 areas of peace that I have suggested are offered/given to all those who choose to follow Jesus: peace with God, peace with the world, peace in your heart. Do you have peace in all these areas? If not – why not?
- Can you think of how you can “get” the peace in these areas and live with this peace forevermore?
PART 4: “THEY SPREAD THE WORD” (V 17)
There is no doubt. When Alex Honnold conquered El Capitan he wanted to spread the word to all who would hear – and came to England to do so last week. He wanted everyone to know!
When the shepherds had their encounter with God, through the angels, nothing would have happened if they had not then gone along to Bethlehem to see the newborn Jesus.
Once they had seen Him they then went everywhere and spread the word about Him.
You see, when you have an encounter with God everything changes – for the better; and you’ve just got to tell someone about that encounter – about the one whom you now know.
Here’s the challenge for us: we no longer need to be afraid; we can live our lives on a daily basis with joy and peace; but we have got to go and share all that we have found with others – so that they can have an encounter too.
- A really simple – but profound – final challenge and question: Are you, like the shepherds, spreading the word about what you know – and have experienced – about Jesus? And if not, then who could you be spreading this good news to?