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A Beautiful Message for Ugly People (Luke 2:8-18)
The Ugliness of Christmas
A Beautiful Message for Ugly People
Luke 2:8-18
 
Christmas shows up in a lot of different ways and places. Just from a Biblical perspective, think about all the unexpected ways the announcement of the birth of Jesus is heard. 
 
No one would have ever expected the King of the Jews to be born in Bethlehem, but sure enough, true to Micah's prophecy, that was his birthplace. 
 
Joseph never expected to be the earthly dad of a heavenly king, and he certainly didn't think he would be a dad before he got married, but that's what happened. 
 
Mary had never been with a man in a sexual way, therefore, the farthest thing from her mind was being pregnant.  But one day, an angel showed up to tell her that was exactly what was going to happen, and almost beyond belief, it was God's child that would grow in her womb.
 
And what we read in today's text was another of those unexpected appearances of Christmas.  You wouldn't expect a great deal to happen out in a field, and you would certainly never expect that the greatest news the world would ever hear would be announced in a field to a bunch of shepherds.
 
One would think an announcement this important would have been made in Rome.  After all, at that time, Rome was the political capital of the world. 
 
Were you in Rome, you would see the ambassadors from all of the various countries and tributaries of the empire moving in and out of the city of Rome where official policy was being made, and edicts were being laid down.  If you wanted to be where it was really happening, you would want to go to Rome.
 
Or perhaps Athens would come to mind as the intellectual capital of the world in that time.  There, the great philosophers were and the great thinkers.  They were developing the ideas and the thoughts that would literally shape and change the world. If you wanted to go where it was happening, then go to Athens, the intellectual center.
 
Or if you really wanted to go where it was happening you would go to Jerusalem, the religious center of the world. There was the magnificent temple of God.  There was the Jewish religion. There, proselytes from all of the world would converge and they would be taught how to worship the true God. If you really wanted to go where it was happening you would go to Jerusalem, the religious capital of the world.
 
But you sure wouldn't expect much to be happening out there in a desert place with some shepherds and a few sheep. But what this earth considers to be really happening may not be what heaven considers to be really happening.
 
I remember reading a number of years ago that a man walked into a store in Kentucky and said, "Has anything unusual happened in the village this week?" 
 
 
 
Someone said, "No. Not a whole lot has happened.  There was a new baby born at Tom Lincoln's cabin. I think they named him Abraham.  But nothing important ever happens around here."
 
Sometimes what this world looks at as being unimportant actually turns out to be the most significant things and places in all of the world.
And very often, especially with Christmas, the beauty and wonder and majesty and holiness of the season is best seen in some of the ugliest and vilest places and circumstances. 
 
Already we've discovered that the ugly secret of Christmas is that it was the sin of humanity that is responsible for the birth of the Savior. 
 
Joseph was instructed to give the baby the name of Jesus because He will save His people from their sins. So the clearest and most beautiful presentation of Christmas we will ever see is not in elaborate nativity sets of heard in beautiful carols. It is seen in the vileness and ugliness of the cross where Jesus died for human sin.   
 
And we find an example of the ugliness of Christmas in what happened that night when the shepherds were gathered on the fields outside the little village of Bethlehem.
 
Listen to what we read in
 
Luke 2:8-18
 
Let's take a look at these shepherds and what they tell us about the ugliness of Christmas.
 
First, let's think about
 
1. Their Vocation
 
verse 8
 
We don't know how many there were or any details about their life.  We are simply told that near Bethlehem, where Jesus had just been born, there were some shepherds taking care of their flocks at night.
 
I can remember when I was a boy. We were much more primitive in the way we had our Christmas programs than we do today. We've got all the high tech things now. But when I was a boy we would depict the Christmas story. The boys would bring their bathrobes and maybe some sandals so they could be shepherds.  
 
You would see their hairy legs as they would come walking down the aisles of the church depicting the shepherds. They would have their shepherd's staffs which was usually a limb they found out in the yard, or maybe an antique someone let them borrow.
 
And most of us have been influenced by scenes like that, or maybe the depictions we see on TV or Christmas cards.  And I'm afraid we have this mistaken image in our head about these fine, up-standing shepherds. 
 
But at this particular time in the history of the Jewish people, the shepherds were not highly regarded. In fact, just about the last people you’d expect God to take notice of or expect God to pay attention to were shepherds.
And the main reason you would expect that is because they were considered
 
- religious outcasts
 
According to Jewish religious law, these men were unclean. Their line of work prevented them from participating in the feasts and holy days that made up the Jewish religious calendar.
 
And when you think about it, it was really a very odd sense of reasoning.  They couldn't participate while everyone else was making the trip to Jerusalem to make sacrifices at the temple, or to participate in one of the annual feasts because  they were out in the fields, watching over the sheep that were required for the sacrifices.
 
It wasn’t really their fault. In fact, they were absolutely necessary for Jews to worship as God required.  But nonetheless, they were looked down on, from a religious point of view. Whatever might have been in their hearts, they weren’t able to participate fully in the religious life of the community.
 
Not only that, shepherds were also
 
- social outcasts
 
Since they were constantly on the move to find new pasture for their flocks, they were looked on with suspicion, much as people today might look at migrant workers or carnival employees.  They were often accused of being thieves. If something came up missing – it must have been those shepherds.
 
They were not permitted to give testimony in a legal proceeding, because their word wasn’t considered trustworthy.  And on top of all that, they really didn’t have much contact with other people.
 
Most of the time, just as we see here in the text, they were living out in the fields with their own kind.  Theirs was not a 40-hour a week job. They didn’t come home at night. They didn't enjoy a supportive network of family and friends.  They spent their time with sheep 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
 
And true to form, on this particular night, here they are out in a  field near Bethlehem, watching over a flock of sheep. 
 
However, I think it important to note that the reputation of shepherds at the time of the birth of Christ is not how it had always been.  In fact, when you study the Bible you will discover that shepherds enjoyed a very noble history.
 
In fact, in the Old Testament, some of the greatest and most notable characters were shepherds.  For instance, Moses was a shepherd.  Moses spent about 40 years out in the deserts tending sheep. 
 
David, the great king of Israel, was a shepherd when God reached out in the pasture and took this young man David and turned him into a shepherd king to shepherd the people of God for a period of 40 years.
 
But at the time of Christ, that nobility had been left behind and they were some of the lowest citizens of the country.  And yet, they are a reminder that common, ordinary sinners like you and me can be a part of the Christmas story.
Let me point out a couple of basic truths about their vocation which speak to us about the message of Christmas.  One of the things they illustrate is
 
- man's predicament. 
 
Notice, and this detail is not incidental, they were out in the fields "keeping watch" over their flocks. So Why were they keeping watch over the flocks? Because they were sheep! They were tending sheep.
some people think it is a compliment that the Bible refers to the people of God as sheep, but that's not true! 
 
These shepherds were symbolic of Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd, who would also humbly follow God’s will. Their sheep represent us as believers, in several ways:
 
For instance, sheep are
 
- dumb! 
 
And not just dumb, but one of the dumbest animals in existence. And I mean by that, they do dumb things. They don't use their brains.  They are dumb and stupid!  you say, "Well preacher, if those are characteristics of sheep, then why would God call us sheep?"  "Duh!"
 
In fact, the Bible says in Isaiah 53 verse 6, "All we like sheep have gone astray," which means that sinners are dumb!  Did you ever think about that, about how stupid sin is and how dumb are those that commit it? . Did you know that sinners are stupid?
 
 
I realize the bleeding hearts among us would just have us believe they are poor innoncent victims who never had a chance, but no matter how victimized you may be, no matter how much of a bad hand you've drawn, no matter how hard you've had it, you don't have to be stupid!  
 
Did you read about the home owners down in Pasco County Florida that caught a man on video as he tried to burglarize seven vehicles in their neighborhood? 
 
All the doors were locked, so he couldn't get in and nothing was stolen.  But the next day, the same guy tried to burglarize an unmarked Pasco Sheriff's Office vehicle in a nearby community. I guess he might have been successful if the vehicle hadn't been occupied by the Strategic Targeted Area Response team, who promptly arrested him.
 
They were then able to link him to the attempted burglaries the night before through video of the crime scene, and at the time of the arrest, he was on felony probation for a burglary/criminal mischief conviction in a nearby county.  
 
You read things like that, and by the way, there a lot of instances, and you think, "Man, how stupid can you be?"  But sin makes you stupid and causes you to do stupid things.
 
And it's not just dumb criminals.  It's everywhere!
Take for instance, drinking alcohol or using drugs.  Drinking alcohol is a no brainer. I hear about parents who sponsor parties for their kids and provide liquor.  May I say with all the compassion of my heart, "That's stupid." 
You are stupid if you are giving your approval to your child to drink alcohol, and I'll just add, as an adult, you ought to know better than to drink it yourself. But sin makes you do stupid things. Did you realize that alcohol and/or drugs contribute to:
 
    90% of all assaults
    90% of all college campus rapes
    86% of deaths related to fire
    85% of all homicides
    80% of all prison incarcerations
    75% of all divorces
    70% of fatal falls
    67% of attempted suicides
    65% of all child abuse cases
    61% of all felony assaults
    60% of sex crimes against children
    52% of all highway fatalities
    50% of traffic fatalities
    50% of spousal abuse
    50% of juvenile delinquency
    45% of all drownings
    40% of fatal work-related injuries
    40% of traffic deaths
    35% of all rapes
    33% of suicides
    55% of all domestic violence
 
About every 20 minutes, a driver is killed because of alcohol.  71 people are killed every day by drunk drivers. Over 200,000 die annually in alcohol-related deaths (murders, drownings, suicides, fires, falls, other accidental deaths).  Four out of every 5 drivers will be in an alcohol-related accident.  Alcohol is the number one cause of infant death and mental retardation. 
 
One million babies are born each year to mothers on alcohol and/or drugs.  42% of compulsive gamblers also have alcohol and/or drug problems.  25% of all hospital admissions are because of alcohol. In 1992, 5500 pedestrians died. 1/3 of them were drunk.  7 of 10 Americans drink socially, but 1 of 10 of those will become alcoholics.
 
The average alcoholic begins drinking at age 12. Early experimentation can begin at 8.  Alcohol-related accidents are the number one killer of persons 15-24 years old.  9 of 10 automobile crashes involving teens is due to alcohol. Alcohol is the number one substance abused by 8th, 10th, and 12th graders.  13% of eighth graders are binge drinkers; 10th graders, 23%; 12th graders, 30%. 64% of young people ages 18-25 drink.
 
Even though the legal drinking age is 21, 66% of drinking teens report they can buy their own alcoholic beverages.  33% of teens know drug sellers; 25% were offered drugs within the past 30 days. 40% of young people in adult correctional facilities drank before committing crimes. 70% of teen suicides involved use of alcohol or drugs.
 
More college students will die due to alcohol than will get advanced degrees.  Over 50% of college students arrested admit drinking before committing crimes.  50% of college students who were crime victims admit using alcohol and/or drugs. 
 
And you ma'am or sir are going to be the one to introduce your teen to alcohol?  You are the very epitome of stupid!
 
 
Think about the stupidity of profanity. Have you ever thought about how stupid it is to use profanity? God has given us the gift of language. The English language has literally thousands of words with which you can express yourself. And yet some can't talk without cursing. 
 
Any time I hear someone cursing and using God's name in vain I know I'm around someone who is limited intellectually. Their vocabulary is made up of so few words they can't form a sentence without a curse word. It is a lazy and ignorant person's attempt to communicate . 
 
In fact, let me give you my definition of profanity: 
Profanity is the effort of a feeble mind to express itself forcibly. You don't need profanity. There are much better ways to communicate, but sin will make you stupid and cause you to do stupid things.  On and on the list goes demonstrating how sinners express their stupidity.
 
Oklahoman's will soon be voting on the legalization of medical marijuana. I don't know which is more stupid, those who proposed the idea or the governor who gave permission for it to come to a vote!
 
By the way, you need to know the marijuana plant is comprised of over 100 chemicals, known as cannabinoids, with each of these having different effects on your body. The two main chemicals used in the medicinal application of marijuana are:
 
Tetrahydro cannabinol, or THC which is the psychoactive compound in marijuana that produces the high that comes with its use.
 
The other component is Cannabidiol, or CBD. This substance does not produce any psychoactive effects.  Medical marijuana has a much higher CBD content, so when you’re taking it, you don’t feel the euphoria that’s associated with its recreational counterpart.
 
Colorado approved the sale and use of medical marijuana in 2000, and enacted further laws regarding its control in 2010. Recent investigations showed that over 85% of the medical marijuana outlets in the state were really selling recreational marijuana, not medical grade.
 
But sheep in Oklahoma are dumb and they just keep buying the lies that are told, whether it is liquor by the drink, pari-mutuel gambling, or the lottery.  And our conduct and responses are a vivid reminder of man's predicament in that way.  
 
Not only are they dumb, sheep are  
 
- directionless
 
I mean by that, they tend to get lost.  They don't have any sense of direction.  A lot of animals do. You can take that cat that you are trying to get rid of and you can drive 50 miles out in the woods and drop that cat off and when you get back to the house that cat will be on the porch purring and welcoming you back home.  A cat and a dog will find its way back home but a sheep will never find its way back home.
 
That's why the Bible says, "All we like sheep have gone astray."  Sinners don't mean to mess up their life the way they mess up their life. 
 
But they just nibble a piece of the devil's grass here, and then they move over here and they nibble another piece of the devil's grass over here.  Then they go over here and they get a little bit more of the devil's grass over here. Then the next thing you know, they are lost and they don't know how to find their way.
 
Sheep are dumb, they are directionless, and they are
 
- defenseless
 
Most animals have a method of defense. A cat will scratch you. A dog will bit you. You know what a skunk will do. But a poor old sheep, when the wolf comes and begins to eat up the rest of the sheep, that old sheep will just stand there totally defenseless.
 
There are a lot of people who are out there in sin and they would like to live a different life.  They would like not to be caught up in the habits and addictions which wrap chains around them.  But they are defenseless.  They have no power.
 
Also, sheep are
 
- dependent
 
Sheep cannot find food and water for themselves. They depend upon the shepherd to lead them to water and green pastures, as stated in Psalm 23. Like us, they need someone to guide them and protect and defend them. 
 
And finally, sheep are
 
- dirty
 
Sheep cannot clean themselves. Some animals such
as a cat can do that, but not sheep. Did you realize you can't clean yourself up either?  We keep trying!  We go to rehab and take classes and turn over new leaves and try to develop new habits.  We change jobs and mates and locations and houses.  But there is no fix, humanly speaking, for the dirt in our lfe. 
 
So here are these shepherds out in the fields, tending their sheep. They are a vivid illustration of  man's predicament. Just watch us and we will soon illustrate that we are dumb, directionless, defenseless, dependent and dirty. 
 
We are sinners.  We do stupid things, we have a tendency to get lost and we can't do anything to improve our situation.   That is the ugliness of Christmas. The Christmas story is all about sinners like you and me and our need for a Savior.
 
The second thing I notice about the vocation of being a shepherd is what it tells us about
 
- God's provision.
 
These stupid, lost and defenseless sheep, need someone to take care of them.  And sure enough, right here we read they had shepherds keeping watch over them. Now, if you are looking for comparisons in the story, then at this point enter Jesus.  He said, "I am the Good Shepherd." 
Now, our Shepherd, Jesus, is a very unusual shepherd.  The Bible teaches that our Shepherd became a sheep.  He became one of us.  He became the Lamb of God.
 In fact, one the most interesting studies you can ever do in your Bible is to begin in the Old Testament and study the thought of the lamb through the Bible to its completion.
 
The first time the lamb is mentioned, it is through a question recorded in Genesis 22.  Abraham and Isaac are on their way up to the place where God has instructed Abraham to sacrifice his son and a Isaac asked his father, "Where is the lamb?"  All through the Old Testament that question seeks to be answered, "Where is the Lamb?.  But the answer is not found.   
 
Then, when you come to the New Testament you come to Matthew and the lamb is not mentioned.  In Mark the lamb is not mentioned. In Luke the lamb is not mentioned.  But when you get to John 1, John the Baptist sees the Lord Jesus coming and he says, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world." 
 
And ultimately, that Lam is seen on the Throne of Heaven as the One slain from the foundation of the Earth.  That Lamb, our Good and Great Shepherd, is the baby that was laid in the manger in Bethlehem, and that's what Christmas is all about.  We've got a shepherd who became a lamb in order to be our Savior.  And these shepherds have the unusually role of picturing both man and God. 
 
Like the sheep they tend, we are dumb, directionless, defenseless, dependent and dirty.  And like God, they are the shepherds.
 
Second, let's think about
 
2. Their Vision
 
And when I say "vision", I don't mean their ability to
see.  Instead I'm talking about what they saw.  God literally gave them a vision. The word "vision" actually means "revelation from God". 
 
Proverbs 29:18, which says, "Where there is no vision, the people perish", is very often misunderstood.  We tend to take that to mean there must be this driving, motivating goal out there in front of us that keeps us moving forward, but that's not what the word means.  In fact, the second part of the verse explains the first part. It continues by saying, "But happy is he who keeps the law."
 
The word vision is talking about revelation.  And what he's saying is if you don't have a word from God, you have no hope.  You don't know how to live or what to do or where to go.  But when you follow the revelation of God, there you will find God's blessing.  That's what I mean when I say these shepherds received a vision from God.   Listen to  
 
verse 9
 
For over 500 years the glory of the Lord had not been revealed on the earth. The glory of God had been withdrawn from the earth. Heaven had been silent.  There was no word from God; no prophet sent from God. 
 
But when Jesus was born, in a radiant and glorious vision, the birth of the glory of God was announced to the world. 
 
 
The skies are suddenly alive with the presence of God's angels, so much so that these shepherds down on the ground are surrounded by the glory of the Lord.  I mean the glory is everywhere!  It is unmistakable and it is inescapable. 
 
And it is so overwhelming, it scares these shepherds to death!  And immediately, they receive a word of comfort from the angel spokesperson.
 
verse 10
 
By the way, while you are reading these scriptures about the birth of Jesus, take note of how many times the little phrase "fear not" appears.   
 
I haven't counted for myself, but someone has observed that 365 times in the Bible we are told to fear not. I don't know if that is accurate or not, but if that is true, that means that there is one "fear not" in the Bible for every day of the year. It matters not if there are 365 "fear not's" because for every day of your life God's message to you and to me is "Fear not."
 
There are all kinds of thing that bring alarm and concern and fear to our lives. We are afraid of the condition of the world.  We are afraid of the terrorist threat. We are afraid that the economy may collapse.  We are afraid for the health and well being of our loved ones.  There are so many fears.
 
But the Bible says that God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and love and a sound mind. Christmas means that Jesus has come into the world and because we have a Savior, you don't have to be afraid anymore.  "Fear not."
He also says in verse 10, "For, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people."  "Good tidings" is good news, the gospel.  When Jesus was born it was good news. It is the good news that God loves this world so very much that He sent His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, to die on the cross to be our Savior. That's the good news about the message of Christmas.
 
You know the message, the story, the news.  But did you know that there are people all around you who don't know?  They don't have a clue.  Their Christmas is nothing more than a story about a fat man in a red suit.  It's about family and food and football. 
 
But it provides us a wonderful opportunity to be angels and announce to those who are living in great fear the good news about Jesus. Listen to their message:
 
verses 11-12
 
That's their vision.  That's the message God chose to hand deliver to them.  The very first ones to every hear the Christmas story! And notice
 
verse 13
 
The word "host" means armies.  "A multitude of the heavenly armies."  That is a strange army.  Instead of fighting they are singing.  They are singing an anthem and in this anthem we have the message of Christmas, "Glory to God in the highest."  That's what Christmas means to heaven.  "And on earth peace, good will toward men."  Literally it is, "Peace, good will among men in whom he is well pleased."  Christ came to bring peace in the human heart.  That's the vision of Christmas.  Before we close, I want to remind you of
 
3. Their Visit
 
verse 15
 
First, I want you to see what the shepherds see. 
They go to Bethlehem and the Bible says in
 
verse 16
 
Now think about what we're reading there.  These old low-down, dirty, outcast shepherds are suddenly face to face with God.  When they looked into the face of that little baby, they were looking into the face of the Savior of the world, the Son of the living God, God Himself.  That's what they saw.
 
The, notice what they said:
 
verse 17
 
They became the first evangelists.  When they saw the cradle, and more importantly, the Christ of the cradle, they couldn't be silent and they went everywhere telling people what they had seen.
 
You and I have not only seen the Christ of the cradle, but you and I have seen the Christ of the cross.  The Christmas story doesn't end with Jesus being born and laid into the cradle.  The Christmas story is not complete until you carry it all the way to the cross.  And even then, it isn't complete.  We have the privilege of following Christ to and empty tomb and an eternity in heaven!
You and I know about the cross and the victory over death and the plan of salvation and how to go to heaven when we die.  We know the importance of the precious blood that was shed.  You and I need to do what these shepherds did and make it known abroad.
 
Let's you and I make a commitment together that we are going to try all through this Christmas season to be aware and alert of those with whom we come in contact who need to know Jesus.  Let's ask the Lord to help us.  If you are not careful you can get really busy and you will forget to do it. It happens to me all the time.  Sometimes I walk away and say, "Man, I didn't even say anything to that person about Jesus." 
 
People are going to be coming to your house delivering things. Speak a word for Jesus.  You are going to be going in and out of these stores.  Do something kind for someone and speak a word for Jesus.  You are going to be eating in restaurants and attending socials and events and there are going to be servers and ushers and hosts and they are going to be so hurried and so caught up. Give them a good tip and then speak a good word for Jesus.
 
Several years ago there was a story told about this young couple who were going to have their little baby christened on a Sunday morning. And on the Saturday evening before the Sunday when the christening was to take place, they decided to invite some of their friends into their home for a party to celebrate the blessed event that would take place in church on the following morning.
 
 
It was a cold wintry evening, and as the guests began to arrive, they were greeted by the husband and wife, the parents of the small child who was to be christened. As the couples entered they were instructed to place their coats and scarves on the bed in an adjacent bedroom. 
 
After a brief time of fellowship, the couple, who were anxiously anticipating the christening of their child on the next morning, announced to those who had gathered, “We want you to meet our little one who is the object of our celebration this evening.” The mother excused herself to go into the bedroom to get the little baby. And in a moment the guests heard a horrifying scream.
 
The mother had gone into the bedroom and discovered that the coats and the scarves had been carelessly thrown on the bed, where the baby was sleeping unnoticed.  Apparently the first coat covered the baby and before long, the little child was literally smothered at his own party.
 
Now, whether that particular story is true or not is hard to determine.  Most likely it is a legend.  But unfortunately, real stories do exist that document the death of children in similar circumstances. 
 
Back in 2011, a very real baby died when the 2-month-old son of 27-year-old women of Garden Grove, California, suffocated in a pile of clothing in his mother’s home. The mother had left the baby unsupervised in her apartment to smoke a cigarette in the courtyard, then joined friends in another unit in the complex to have drinks with them.
 
 
When she returned home at 4 in the morning, she
found the baby dead, face down in a pile of clothes.
 
So preacher, why these sad stories about babies dying?  I tell those stories because in many ways, the “baby smothered under a pile of coats” is Jesus. 
 
He isn't literally smothered and they aren't really coats, but every year, the real reason for Christmas gets covered up by all the secular aspects of Christmas.  The “smothered infant” is neglectfully left on a bed where thoughtless guests fling their coats in their rush to return to the main room and continue the party.  
 
And unfortunately, the celebration held in his honor goes on without him.  And in spite of the party going on, there is really no reason to celebrate without Him. 
 
in fact, the most significant part of the Christmas story is the beautiful message that was delivered to ugly people like us when the angels announced to the shepherds, "There is born unto you this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."
 
Don't miss him while you're partying with your friends in His honor.  Instead, make Him the centerpiece of your celebrations and ask God to help you introduce someone to Jesus.  The very best gift you and I could give at Christmas time is to give Christ to a lost soul for whom He died on the cross.  may God help us to be like the shepherds.
 
Let's pray.
 
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