Dr. Halford E. Luccock (1885-1961) former professor of preaching at Yale University, shares the following: “A woman in an Eastern city, a week or so before last Christmas, called a minister on the telephone. She was in much agitation. She explained that she was chairman of an outdoor community Christmas tree lighting and was disturbed over the selection of the carols to be sung. She could not, she said, find just the right songs for such a function. ‘Most of the Christmas songs,’ she complained, ‘are too distressingly theological.’ The minister replied, ‘Well, after all, Christmas was a rather theological affair, wasn’t it?’ It was. The first Christmas was not an innocuous affair, organized around the least common denominator of vague belief.”
Dr. Vance Havner (1901-1986) writes, “Some years ago it was prophesied that there would come a day when we would hear the preaching of ‘religion without the Holy Spirit, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration and heaven without hell.’ We have arrived.” Dr. Stephen F. Olford (1918-2004) shares the following on the phrase, “Christianity without Christ”: “That great expositor, W. H. Griffith Thomas [1861-1924], said that Christianity is Christ. Without the Lord Jesus being central Christianity is only bare bones. Its doctrines may be known, and even understood, and yet Christ can be left out. This is what has happened in history. Christianity has departed from the Christ of the Bible. The ‘liberal’ Christ is a strange person; he is not the Christ of the apostles. Men have divested Him of all His unique characteristics, and yet claim that they are presenting Christ. The Jesus we hear about today is not the eternal Son of God whose atoning death and triumphant resurrection make possible the redemption of sinful man.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945) warns, “Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.”
If we can have Christianity without Christ, it is obvious that we can have Christmas without Christ! The only cure for either of these is a Christ-Centered Life! We need to quit trying to get unbelievers to “Keep Christ in Christmas” whether they are church members or not. In so doing, we are asking them to be hypocrites. Christmas is meaningless unless Jesus Christ is Savior and Lord! Dr. Adrian Rogers (1931-2005) said, “That little baby wrapped in swaddling clothes was the great, eternal, uncreated, self-existing Word made flesh, the One who swung planets into space. The baby in Luke 2 is the mighty God of Genesis 1 who made it all.” Dr. David Jeremiah reportedly said, “All the Christmas presents in the world are worth nothing without the presence of Christ.” Kay Arthur asks, “Is there a void in your life? Then what you need is a Merry Christmas! You need the relationship that Christmas is all about. You need Jesus, God in the flesh, who gives you access to the Father. You need a Father who not only promises to supply all your needs through His Son, but One who is capable and willing to do so.” J. R. R. Tolkien (1892-1973) likely coined the word “eucatastrophe”, defined as a sudden, unexpectedly joyous miraculous turn of grace. As such a ‘good catastrophe,’ a positive upheaval, a marvelous inbreaking of blessing. According to Tolkien: “The Birth of Christ is the eucatastrophe of Man’s history. The Resurrection is the eucatastrophe of the story of the Incarnation. The story begins and ends in joy.”
During the chapel services at the First Baptist Daycare, I call for children to recite Bible verses. This past July, a little fellow named, Conner, boldly declared, “Luke 2:12, You shall find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloth[e]s, lying in a manger (Luke 2:12).” This reminded me of “Christmas in July.” Conner’s quotation of Luke 2:12 caused me to prepare for preaching on the Christmas story recorded in Luke 2:8-20. Several months ago, I asked him to recite this verse before I preached from Luke 2 in the morning worship service.
Now, we find ourselves in the midst of the Christmas rush, just days away from the celebration of Christmas. Dr. Warren W. Wiersbe writes, “Halford Luccock called this ‘the first Christmas rush,’ but it was certainly different from the Christmas rushes of today!” One way to counteract the ill effects of the Christmas rush is to read the Christmas story. Luke 2:8-20 reads, “Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’ So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.” Note three things about the shepherds.
I. Note the fear of the shepherds.
Luke 2:9b reads, “. . . they were greatly afraid.” Trace the word translated “afraid” or “fear” in the Christmas story. Luke 1:13, 30, 74 reads, “But the angel said to him, “Do not be afraid, Zacharias, for your prayer is heard; and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John. . . . Then the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.’ . . . To grant us that we, Being delivered from the hand of our enemies, Might serve Him without fear.” Matthew 1:20 reads, “But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.’” (Emphasis mine) Note the number of times you find the instruction, “do not be afraid” or “without fear”.
In a message titled, “Fear Not,” based on Revelation 1:17, Rev. Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892) explains, “When we come into the New Testament, there we see God coming more familiarly to men than ever before—not descending upon Paran with 10,000 flaming chariots, setting the mountain on a blaze—but coming down to Bethlehem in an Infant’s form with angels chanting the joyful words, ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.’
The genius of the New Testament is drawing near to God—ceasing to tremble and beginning to trust—ceasing to be the slave and learning to be the child! Though in the precise form of it, the words of my text were not very often spoken by the Lord Jesus Christ, yet His whole life was one long proclamation of, ‘Fear not.’”
II. Note the faith of the shepherds.
Luke 2:15b reads, “And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger.” Dr. J. C. Ryle (1816-1900) states, “Their simple faith received a rich reward. They had the mighty privilege of being the first of all mankind, after Mary and Joseph, who saw with believing eyes the new-born Messiah.”
There are at least three things that attest to the genuineness of the faith of the shepherds. First, their decision for truth attests to the genuineness of their faith. No matter what you call it, there must be a moment of truth. In the words of James Russell Lowell (1819-1891):
Once to every man and nation,
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth with false-hood,
For the good or evil side
Second, their declaration of truth attests to the genuineness of their faith. The herdsmen became heralds of the good news! Luke 2:17-18 reads, “Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.”
Rev. Henry John Wonnacott (1849-1877), pastor of Albion Congregational Church in Hull, England, writes, “Having seen the Infant Saviour, they immediately made known their story, first to Mary, who kept all these things and pondered them in her heart, and then to the busy crowd of travellers bustling about the inn. No sooner had they found Christ for themselves, than they made it known abroad that they had found Him.”
Third, their devotion to truth attests to the genuineness of their faith. Rev. Wonnacott continues, “But we do not part company with them here. We are told in the twentieth verse that they ‘returned’ — returned to their ordinary work, to their flocks and folds, to those vales and hills from which they had come, now for ever bright to them with something of the angels’ glory, and there, in their own quiet life, they ‘fought the good fight, and kept the faith.’ God does not call every man to be an apostle. He wants preachers in private as well as in public. He wants the glad tidings to be told in sheep-folds, and in markets, and in shops, as much as in places set apart for the proclamation. And if for you the world has been transfigured, and common things have received the impress of heaven by the vision of God’s salvation, then in the place where your daily lot is cast, in the sphere of your common duties and labours, stand forth a witness for righteousness and for God, preach the gospel of peace and salvation to the sin-stricken, sorrow-laden men and women all around you.”
III. Note the fulfillment of the shepherds.
Luke 2:20 reads, “Then the shepherd returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen as it was told them.” Rev. Charles H. Spurgeon writes, “Returned to what? Returned to business to look after the lambs and sheep again. Then if we desire to glorify God we need not give up our business.
Some people get the notion in their heads that the only way in which they can live for God is by becoming ministers, missionaries, and Bible women. Alas! how many of us would be shut out from any opportunity of magnifying the Most High if this were the case. The shepherds went back to the sheep-pens glorifying and praising God. Beloved, it is not office, it is earnestness; it is not position, it is grace which will enable us to glorify God. God is most surely glorified in that cobbler’s stall where the godly worker as he plies the awl sings of the Saviour’s love, ay, glorified far more than in any prebendal stall where official religiousness performs its scanty duties. The name of Jesus is glorified by yonder carter as he drives his horse and blesses his God, or speaks to his fellow laborour by the roadside as much as by yonder divine who, throughout the country like Boanageres, is thundering out the gospel. God is glorified by our abiding in our vocation. Take care you do not fall out of the path of duty by leaving your callings. There is no trade that is not sanctified by the gospel. If you turn to the Bible, you will find the most menial forms of labour have been in some way or other connected either with the most daring deeds of faith, or else with persons whose lives have been otherwise illustrious; keep to your calling, brother, keep to your calling! Whatever God has made thee, when he calls thee abide in that, unless thou art quite sure, mind that unless thou art quite sure that he calls thee to something else. The shepherds glorified God though they went to their trade.”
Al Bryant, former editor in chief of Zondervan Publishing House, and author of many books to include, Day by Day with Charles Spurgeon and Climbing the Heights, shares the following in Time Out: “What if the shepherds had not been on duty when the angel came with his celestial announcement? They might have been asleep and thus never heard. They might have been careless and ignored the angel’s announcement. Then too, they might have been preoccupied with the world around them and thus over-looked the angel’s visit or they might have been grumbling, so concerned with their own petty problems that they would not even notice their heavenly visitor. Fortunately for them, they did not fail in their small task, their daily routine, and they were among the first to welcome the Messiah. We, too, must be ever on the alert, no matter how seemingly routine our lives may be, for we never know when we will be entertaining ‘an angel unawares.’”
David, a shepherd boy, who became a king, declared, “The Lord is my shepherd” (Psalm 23:1). We can agree and add, “The Shepherd is my Lord!” He is the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, and the Glorious Shepherd! Isaiah 53:6 reads, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the Lord hath laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Remember the “Good news of great joy” is a universal invitation, because it “shall be to all people.” Dr. Halford Luccock writes, “The Christian message is not an exhortation — ‘try hard to be good.’ Good advice, but there is no saving gospel in that.”
Dr. Roy William Gustafson (1914-2002) explains, “Religion is man’s quest for God; the gospel is the Savior God seeking lost men. Religion originates on earth; the gospel originated in heaven. Religion is man-made; the gospel is the gift of God. Religion is the story of what a sinful man tries to do for a holy God; the gospel is the story of what a holy God has done for sinful men. Religion is good views; the gospel is good news.” 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 reads, “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”
Remember the “Good news of great joy” is an urgent invitation, because “. . . now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2b). Dr. Clarence E. McCartney (1879-1957) explains, “The greatest subject which can engage the mind and attention of man is eternal life. Hence the Holy Spirit, when he invites men to come to Christ, never says ‘Tomorrow’ but always ‘Today.’ If you can find me one place in the Bible where the Holy Spirit says, ‘Believe in Christ tomorrow,’ or ‘Repent and be saved tomorrow,’ I will come down out of the pulpit and stay out of it — for I would have no Gospel to preach. But the Spirit always says, ‘Today,’ never ‘Tomorrow.’ ‘Now is the accepted time.’ ‘Now is the day of salvation.’ ‘Today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts.’ ‘While it is called Today.’”
The reason for this urgency is twofold. First, the uncertainty of human life. A long time ago, David, in his last interview with Jonathan, said, ‘As thy soul liveth, there is but a step between me and death.’ That is true of every one of us. But a step! What shadows we are, and what shadows we pursue! An old rabbi used to say to his people, ‘Repent the day before you die.’ ‘But,’ they said to him, ‘Rabbi, we know not the day of our death.’ ‘Then,’ he answered, ‘repent today. . . .’
The second reason why Christ, when he calls a man, always says ‘Today, and never Tomorrow’, is that tomorrow the disposition of a man’s heart may have changed. There is a time to plant, and a time to reap. The heart, like the soil, has its favorable seasons. ‘Speak to my brother now! His heart is tender now!’ a man once said to me concerning his brother, who was not a believer. Today a man may hear this sermon and be interested, impressed, almost persuaded, ready to take his stand for Christ and enter into eternal life. But he postpones his decision and says, ‘Not tonight, but tomorrow.’ A week hence, a month hence, a year hence, he may come back and hear the same call to repentance and to faith. But it has absolutely no effect upon him, for his heart is as cold as marble and the preacher might as well preach to a stone or scatter seed on the marble pavement below this pulpit. Oh, if the story of this one church could be told, if the stone should cry out of the wall and the beam out of the timber should answer, what a story they could tell of those who once were almost persuaded but who now are far from the Kingdom of God. Christ said, Today! They answered, Tomorrow!
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.”
What better time to come to Jesus for His gift of salvation than in the midst of the Christmas rush?
Halford E. Luccock, Marching Off The Map: And Other Sermons, (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1952), 108.
The Vance Havner Notebook, comp. Dennis J. Hester, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1989), 121. Database © 2014 WORDsearch Corp. Stephen F. Olford, Heart-Cry for Revival, (Westwood, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1962), 17. Database © 2004 WORDsearch Corp.
John Hunt, AMG Concise Christian History, (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publications, 2008), 570. © 2008 WORDsearch Corp.
Adrian Rogers, “The Greatest Event in Human History,” Accessed: 12/20/14, http://www.oneplace.com/ministries/love-worth-finding/read/articles/the-greatest-event-in-human-history-15448.html .
Kay Arthur, Just a Moment with You, God, (Siloam Springs, AR: Garborg’s, a brand of DaySpring Cards, Inc., 2004), “Is There a Void in Your Life?” December 18 Reading.
J. R. R. Tolkien, The Tolkien Reader, (New York, NY: Ballantine Books, 1966), 71.
Warren W. Wiersbe, The Wiersbe Bible Commentary: New Testament, (Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2007), 143.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Fear Not,” Sermon Notes, (Revelation 1:17).
John Charles Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, St. Luke, Vol. 1, (London: Wertheim, Macintosh & Hunt, 1858), 59.
The Biblical Illustrator, ed. Joseph S. Exell, St. Luke, Vol. 1, Henry John Wonnacott, Luke 2:8-9, (New York, NY: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1905), 130.
Illustrator, Wonnacott, 130-131.
Charles H. Spurgeon, Twelve Christmas Sermons (New York, NY: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1890), 717.
Al Bryant, Time Out, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1961), Nov. 24 Reading.
Luccock, Marching, 110.
Roy Gustafson, “Contrasts,” Decision magazine, December 1960, 2. Cited by Lloyd J. Ogilvie, Life Without Limits: The Message of Mark’s Gospel, (Waco, TX: Word, Incorporated, 1975), 55.
Clarence E. McCartney, “Come Before Winter,” Sermon Notes, (2 Timothy 4:9, 21).