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Friday, December 5, 2008

Go Tell It on the Mountain

One of my favorite parts of the Christmas story is the account of the shepherds. Like so many people that encounter Jesus in the Gospels, this group of sheep-herders is one of those groups that would seem least likely to see receive an encounter with God. There is so much going against them. According to Robert H. Stein, "We should not romanticize this scene as being a pronouncement to hardworking and respected 'ranchers.' Shepherds were generally considered dishonest. They were unclean according to the law." (Jesus the Messiah, 75) So, why would God send angels to proclaim the birth of Jesus to these kinds of people?

There are any number of good answers, but I think the most provocative one is given by Stein when he says that the angels come to them, not in spite of the fact that they are sinners, but precisely because they are sinners. "Their presence at the birth of Jesus was recorded by Luke to show his readers that the good news of the gospel is for the poor, for sinners, for outcasts, for people like the shepherds." (75) Jesus came for dishonest, unclean sinners! Not unlike us!

Were we living at that time, we would be stunned by the fact that these were the people who first heard of the Messiah's coming. I would think the news would have first come to someone with authority or power, someone with clout, like Caesar or Herod. Or, maybe someone who was very pious and religious, like the good old priest, Simeon, who had waited his whole life for the Messiah and was told by the Holy Spirit he would one day see the savior of Israel. Surely he would hear before those rotten shepherds. But no, Simeon doesn't encounter Christ until eight days after His birth. (Luke 2:25-35) First and foremost, Christ comes to the weak, poor sinners.

For sinners like you and me this is incredible news. God comes to save us! The good news of Christmas is that God came in human flesh to save sinners, to forgive them, and to give them eternal life. The good news of Christmas is that Jesus, born in a manger, would go to a cross and die for those who are dishonest and unclean. He would receive the judgment they (we!) deserve by dying the death of a guilty sinner. By Christ coming to sinners, sinners are declared righteous and can look forward to an eternity of listening to the angels singing "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests." (Luke 2:14)

This is good news that we must not keep to ourselves, but like the shepherds, go tell the world! Just as we sing every year around this time, "Go tell it on the mountain, over the hills, and everywhere! Go tell it on the mountain that Jesus Christ is born!" At the risk of sounding like a diamond commercial, this year for Christmas, give gift of hope and forgiveness that the shepherds gave that first Christmas. Give the gift of good news that God has come for sinners! Merry Christmas! Glory to God on high!

Stephanie, Sophie, and I would like to wish all of you a wonderful Christmas this year! We are always thankful to be a part of this church family and we pray that your Christmas is full of both wonder as you contemplate the mystery and majesty of God lying in a manger and joy as you spend time with family and friends. Merry Christmas!

Pastor Bob

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