Text: Luke 2: 15-18: “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said one to 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. 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.”
Dearly Beloved By the Blessed Babe of Bethlehem:
The first time G. F. Handel’s “Messiah” was performed, the King of England was in attendance. During the “Hallelujah Chorus” the King stood because he was so awed by it all. Seeing this, the entire audience also stood in honor of the work. And to this day, unless someone has a burr in their saddle, many still rise to their feet when they hear it. Most do it out of tradition, I do it because it honors God.
To most, worship is about them honoring God. That’s only half true, however. The other half, the greater half, is about God honoring us! I suppose this is one of the chief reasons people who seldom darken a church doorway make the pilgrimage on Christmas. They want to pay homage to the King of Kings. But until they realize that during every worship service God honors them, their attendance will be a bit sporatic.
The last thing those shepherds expected that night was for the heavens to open, angel choirs to appear, and the announcement of God’s Son being born to ring in their ears. Note well that God initiated this act of worship, not the shepherds. In fact, unseen angel choirs are still signing paeans of joy to God for this once-in-all-time event—God coming to save fallen humans! We’re not told that the shepherds joined their voices in praising God, but they probably did, a bit. After all, human singing cannot compete with angel choirs, can it? However, what we are told is that they were amazed and excited at it all, so much so that they talked among themselves and then left their valuable flocks behind in God’s providential care to trek off to Bethlehem and see the Baby Jesus with their own eyes. They worshiped Him there with their presence. And He, in turn, responded to their worship by inflaming their hearts to the degree that they continued to: “spread the word” about it to all who would listen and even to some who wouldn’t!
The chief emotion of the shepherds had to have been joy. Yes, it certainly would have been mixed with awe, humility, appreciation for the forgiveness of sins that the Messiah would bring, along with raw joy. Like us, none of them deserved to be so blessed by God. So, when we sum up Godly worship today, the word “joy” comprehends it all, doesn’t it?
Only the truly good and great blessings of life evoke joy. I suppose tonight we could well say that: “The Light has nothing to do with the darkness.” But on one of the darkest days of the year, we know that light is transitory. It doesn’t last. Or does it?
“God is Light and in Him dwells no darkness at all.” That’s what the Bible says. And it’s true when you think of Light as the totality of God’s goodness, the totality of His blessings. Also, as “Children of the Light” we live surrounded by His goodness, so the joy it brings to us really never fades after all. I can’t imagine it fading for the shepherds. To their dying day I’m sure each of them remembered this first Christmas with joy pushing everything else aside.
The joy of worship does exactly that. It focuses our attention like a laser on God alone. It causes us to see Him in the form of a helpless Baby Who meets us in total humility. In worship God gives to us pure love, His pure love that contrasts so starkly with our dark unworthiness, and out of that cosmic collision brings forth joy. Joy that lasts. Joy that actively works at revealing where it comes from. Joy that “spreads the news” of its birth in us—just as in the shepherd’s case.
Tonight you have come to worship the Baby Jesus. And that worship has created and is creating joy within you.—Not because you are honoring Him, but because He is honoring you. Now that you have that straight in your head, why deprive yourself from reliving such joy the rest of the 52 weeks ahead in the coming year? Amen