IIT UBF - University Bible Fellowship at IIT




Finding Christmas

Date: Dec. 22, 2008

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Luke 2:8-20

Key Verse: Luke 2:20

“The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

Does it feel like Christmas to you right now? We are only a few days away from it; and I don’t know about you, but it really doesn’t seem like Christmas to me. Sure, we’ve had a boatload of snow this past week and a week ago we had our Christmas worship service, but for some reason this year seems a bit less festive. The economy is in the tank and people are having trouble getting or keeping jobs. Illinois politicians are synonymous with corruption, once again. It is so bitter cold today. And the Bears are just doing so-so. Where is the joy? Where is the meaning of Christmas? The night of Jesus’ birth, some lowly shepherds were the first to find out what the meaning of Christmas is. Let’s find out what they found and how we can find it, too.

Not too far from the hustle and bustle of the big city of Jerusalem, in the town of David, the baby Jesus was born to a young, poor couple, who could not find room in any inn. Instead, he was born in a stable among the animals. As we very well know, this baby is the Son of God, but no one cared at the time. Sure the animals looked on, but Mary and Joseph huddled alone in the stable as Mary gave birth. The joyous occasion of a child’s birth goes unnoticed. More than that, the most joyous occasion of the birth of the Son of God goes unnoticed. The people were waiting centuries for the arrival of the Savior, but when it happened, only the animals were present.

While this momentous act played out, the people were going about their business, even if that just meant sleeping. Look at verse 8, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.” These were hard-working men working on the third shift, keeping an eye on the sheep. It wasn’t an easy job. Thieves and predators preferred the dark when going after their prey. The shepherds could not let their eyes droop even once or the flock may be ravaged. It was a thankless job with no respect from anyone. They were the people who had no one working underneath them to whom to pass off responsibility. It might have even been their first job. Actually, these guys remind me of IIT students. I think you guys know what I mean. You remember your days studying; some were doing it last week. I bet there were times where you were up all night preparing for finals. You might have even camped out in Galvin Library during their 24-hour schedule. Or, if you are an architect, you might remember sleepless nights in Crown finishing your studio project. Then there are grad students like Ping, who toil the night away in the basement of E1 performing research that most of us will never understand.

That’s what these shepherds were: just ordinary, unassuming, and in their case even uneducated, nobodies. And yet, that night something extraordinary happened to these ordinary nobodies. Verse 9 says, “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” For hundreds of years, not a single person saw an angel of the Lord, but in the first two chapters of Luke, it is recorded that there were three angel sightings in less than two years. Why did this angel come? Well, the angel had a message, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (10-12) The angel’s message was a continuation of what was told to Zechariah and Mary. The angel Gabriel told Zechariah that he would have a son that would prepare the way for the Lord – so the message was the Lord was coming. Gabriel told Mary that she was going to bear the Son of God although she was a virgin. And now, this angel told these shepherds that the Savior has been born. He called it “good news of great joy.” That’s not a term used very often. As is noted many times, Jesus’ birth marks the beginning of a new age. No longer were men separated from God, but God came to earth to bring people back to him. No longer could people say that God does not understand their situation, because Jesus came and lived among them as a man. No longer do people have to live in the shame of Satan’s grasp, because the horn of their salvation has arrived to save them. So, yeah, that is good news of great joy.

After that part of the message, the angel gave a sign. “This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (12) As we heard at the Christmas worship service, it was extremely odd to think that a baby would be lying in a manger. It was very unsanitary and if it wasn’t God in the manger, then I could imagine Mary and Joseph trying to shoo away animals that were trying to eat around the baby. With all of our modern, warm and fuzzy imagery of that night, it can be hard to really understand what was going on. Let’s go back to that shepherd/student analogy. Picture yourself, in your IIT days, pulling an all-nighter. You might be in Crown, Galvin, E1 or wherever. You are working hard, as usual, and at around 2 AM you see a bright and blinding light shining all around you. It startles you and then you hear a voice, “Don’t be afraid. I bring you some really good news that will mean so much for everyone. Today in the Second City a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a dog food bowl next to a kitty litter box.” Then there would be some more angels singing and it all goes back to the way it was.

How would you react to that? Would you look around to see if anyone else noticed what you saw? Would you wonder if you fell asleep and it was all a dream? Would you think that you were just sleep deprived and hallucinating? Or would you wonder what was in the drink?   Since it would be finals time, I bet most of you would just go back to studying or whatever you were doing without a second thought. However, the more industrious people might open up their computers and google it to see if it was true. Conversely, some people probably would wonder at the message, “Why would a baby be lying in a dog food bowl next to the litter box? No parent in their right mind would allow that! They at least should find a basket or a drawer to put the baby in.” But that was the message, and that is how unusual Jesus’ birth is.

How did those shepherds react? “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.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.” (15-16) The shepherds didn’t think that it was sleep depravation or the after effects of some wacky ingredient in their drinks. They accepted that the Lord told them about this baby. It sounded crazy, but it was God’s word, so they went to see the truth behind the words. Plus, they didn’t wait until the next shift came; they hurried off and left the flock behind to verify what the angel told them.

That’s pretty different from what most people today would do. Even if a person would believe, they would put off going. There is a common thought that whatever you are doing at the moment is the most important thing in the world. There is always the, “Let me finish whatever I am doing first. Then I’ll go. Well, maybe after I have a snack, too…and a nap. I’m a little tired. But right after that I’ll go…if there is nothing good on TV.” Whether we admit it or not, we all make excuses not to go and verify God’s word. We are comfortable where we are and don’t want to be bothered making the extra effort to check things out for ourselves, so we make excuses. Our world has become increasingly more convenient, from the old guard of fast food and remote controls to the cutting edge with TiVo’s, YouTube, Twitter, and iPhones. What an age! The world is at our fingertips and we can get it any time we want. But with that extra level of convenience comes the risk of laziness and self-centeredness. Why go check something out live when you can just watch it on YouTube on your iPhone when you feel like it? Then it spreads like a cancer and infects the other parts of our lives and we don’t want to do anything that gets us out of our self-contained worlds, so we say we are busy and don’t have the time right now to bother with it.

I’m harping on this because that is what I would do. Most, if not all, of you know that I am the King of Excuses. I will have an excuse for everything and anything if I don’t want to do something and it probably drives many mad. Most of the time, the excuses make me sound better than others and overly pious. One soon-to-be-classic example happened at the summer conference. I was asked at the ice cream party why I wasn’t getting any ice cream. Personally, I don’t know why I didn’t want any, but before I could stop myself, I blurted out, “I am here for the word of God.” I also don’t know why I said that, but as soon as it came out, I regretted it and the person to whom I said it was really put back. I would like to publicly say that I am sorry for my words and excuse making, in general.

These shepherds didn’t make any excuses. In fact, no one told them to go to Bethlehem; they took initiative and went to see what was there for themselves. So, what did they find? They “found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.” (16) They found exactly what they were told they would find. It was an impossible sight, but the shepherds found it nonetheless, just like the angel said. “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” (17-18) After they found the child, they made the connection about his identity. The sign they saw proved to them that he was the Savior, the Christ and they couldn’t stop sharing what they heard and saw. It was big news, bigger than anything that had ever come before or since.

When Barack Obama was elected to be President, many people began talking about him, and nearly everyday, the news outlets have been reporting his choices for his Cabinet. They call the whole thing “historic” and “monumental”. Countless people are clamoring to see his Inauguration. They want to be a part of the news and want to see this man for themselves. Don’t get me wrong, it is big news, but the birth of Jesus is infinitely greater. There are many people out there that vehemently oppose Obama’s election, because it will cost them something. However, Jesus’ birth is good news of great joy for all the people. There is not a single person who does not have the opportunity to come to God and have new life because Jesus came into the world as a baby in a manger. The lowly shepherds were not excluded and neither are IIT students.

Not only were the shepherds not excluded, they were the first to find out and the first to accept the good news; then, they began to share it, and never stopped. Verse 20 states, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” These guys were shepherds: simple country folk who didn’t have a lot of education. Most of the time they probably talked about which of the sheep was the largest or that new model of staff: the one with the larger hook to grab those more portly sheep. They may have even talked about the bears, not the football team, but real bears and how to stop them from eating the sheep. Their lives were pretty well focused on those sheep. But at this point, they could not stop talking about this baby in a manger and what it means. It was big news for the whole world and for each of them in particular. Because of that child, all their failures, pains, hard nights, all the humiliation they received and their lives of meaninglessness could be changed. By merely seeing Jesus, all the negativity in their lives did not matter, because this child came to save them and bring them to God. Because of that, they just had to share it with others, and for the first time in their lives, people listened to them. They were no longer ordinary nobodies; they were somebodies with a message to give.

Here, we find the meaning of Christmas. Jesus is the focus of Christmas. He is what it is all about, but the meaning is to share what we see and hear. We have been told over and over again about this baby in the manger, and we may have accepted the message each time too, but if we do not share this message with others, then we miss the point. The angels told the shepherds about Jesus. The shepherds went to see for themselves, and then, they spread the word about the child. Our reaction to the sight shows what we think about the baby in a manger. Jesus’ coming into the world in such a way moves many people’s hearts, but are those hearts moved just an inch or miles? A heart moved an inch does not move a person far enough to tell anyone. Move your chairs an inch in any direction and look around. Is there anybody to tell that doesn’t already know? If Jesus’ birth moves your heart by miles, then you will go miles away to tell people because that is the point of it being shown to you…that’s the point of Christmas.

Like I said, for me, it hasn’t been feeling like Christmas. I don’t know if it is work-related or the repetitiveness of God’s word, but even though it is just a few days away, I don’t think I’ve uttered the words, “Merry Christmas” even once. In the same way, I have been lacking in the sharing department, as well. I don’t think that I have shared the meaning of Jesus’ birth with one person this season, yet. The baby Jesus has changed me significantly. It was actually a Christmas message that finally melted my heart. Jesus changed me from a messed up, mopey mess, a wonderer, to a Bible teacher leading others to Christ. Yet, excuses remain. For some reason or another I haven’t shared this message this year. I have done many things, but not what is the most important. I have become lazy and self-centered as the King of Excuses reigns in my heart. There is no excuse not to share, not one. Even if you lose your voice, you can still write and share with someone. I’ve groaned about being busy, tired, or sick, but what have I to complain about? My Savior, my Lord, my King, my God was born in a stable and placed a feed trough! He gave up his glory, so that I would not be blinded and distracted. He stripped it all so that he could be seen, but I just want to rest. Have mercy upon me, Lord, to learn from these shepherds and praise your name to all that would hear.

Christmas is the time to come to the manger and see the baby lying within. The angel called this child our Savior, the Christ. He wanted the shepherds to know, to go, and to share what they would see. To find Christmas, we must share Christ with others. We all know people that have not seen and accepted the baby Jesus as their Savior, whether they are family, coworkers, friends or students. So, it is up to us, who were given the message, to share it with those who did not hear it and go and see. I pray that everyone’s hearts may be moved miles by what God has done and go spread the word, praising and glorifying God for all the things they had heard and seen. I know that is my goal.

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