Sermon Series: Jesus the Light of the World
Allow me to take this opportunity on behalf of my family and I, to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas.
While we are on the subject, what is Christmas all about anyway? As a minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ this is a question I and I am sure many of my colleagues ask every year. Each year the answer is the same. Christmas is about the birth of Christ. Every year we admonish our congregants not to lose sight of the meaning of Christmas and to remember to keep Christ in Christmas. However, I have come to the point where the slogans and clichés are beginning to ring a little hollow and do not have the same impact they once did.
In fact, as I continue to explore and delve deeper into the meaning of Christmas each year God reveals another nugget, a broader context, and a greater sense of awareness that Christmas is more than just a holiday. It is more than a time for family and friends to come together and exchange gifts, pleasantries and have a jolly good time. Christmas is also more than a religious exercise that sets the stage for its cousin Lent. While all of these things are good and have their place, they all fall on the periphery and tend to obscure the fact that Christmas is about God’s response to human need and humanity’s response to God meeting our need. On a cold winters night in a manger in Bethlehem, God took the initiative to address every need that men, women, and children will ever have and then sat back and awaited a response. One of the things that’s most interesting about this night is the initial response of a few triggered a multitudinous response of many spanning several centuries up to the present.
The Bible tells us in Luke’s gospel in the second chapter beginning at the eighth verse that an angel of the Lord visited a group of shepherds and announced to them the birth of the Christ child. From the best of Biblical research and scholarship we know that the first to hear of Christ’s birth was the shepherds who were tending their flocks in the fields. A question that I have posed to the Scriptures is why the shepherds? I mean, what was so special about them? Of all the people that could have been informed and had the privilege of being first to receive the announcement of such a blessed event, why the shepherds? What about the Priests? God’s servants who presumably walked with God, studied the Word of God, and understood the significance of this event. What about kings and queens? They were royalty. They had the resources and could have made the finest of accommodations for receiving the Prince of Peace and the Son of God into the world. I ask the question, why the shepherds?
There are two verses that help to answer this question. In verse 15 after the angels and the heavenly host left them, the shepherds said, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” Then in verse 17 we read, “When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.” In these two verses we are able to see that what separated the shepherds from everyone else was the fact that they were responsive. In other words, they responded to the angel’s announcement of Christ’s birth and after they investigated the validity of the angel’s announcement they further responded by sharing what they had heard and seen for themselves. As we take a moment to reflect on the shepherd’s response to both the announcement and subsequent confirmation of Christ’s birth, we are challenged to examine our own response to Christ. Are we responsive to Christ, and how do we respond to Christ?
Before we rush to answer, let the question ruminate in our soul and settle in our heart. Before we reflexively respond, let us consider that the shepherd’s response elicited a response. The shepherd’s response caused Mary to respond. One of the ways we will know if we have responded to Christ is that our response to Christ will elicit a response from others. There are men, women, and children in and around us who are looking at us to see what impact Christ has made in our lives. They are examining our response to Christ to see if it confirms or contradicts the reality of Christ in our lives and in the world. I ask you again, are you responsive to Christ and, how do you respond to Christ?
The sequence of events in the narrative of the shepherd’s reveals a formula called “call and response.” The “call and response” formula is essentially composed of two parts. Part A of the formula is “The call.” “The call” is the Word of God going forth. Part B of the formula is “The response.” “The response” is what hearers do after hearing the Word of God. It is important to keep in mind that without a call there can be no response, and in the presence of a call there will always be a response. This is what the prophet meant when he said, “the Word of the LORD shall not return void.”
The text opens with the shepherd’s receiving a visit from an angel. The angel announces and informs the shepherd’s of the birth of Christ (Call). The announcement the angel brings is a call to awareness. It is a call intended to awaken the shepherd’s to the reality that something has changed in their environment and that God has done something dramatic within their world that will change their context forever. The angelic visitation is followed by the appearance of heavenly host who celebrate the announcement (Response). The celebration by the heavenly host is in response to what God has done. It is a response in recognition that God alone has done for all of humanity what it could never have done for itself. The shepherd’s investigate what they have heard (Call). The announcement the shepherd’s received was a call to go and see what God has done. It is a call for the shepherd’s to see up close and personal the splendor, majesty, power, and person of God in the flesh. They then shared what they had heard and saw (Response). When God has done something wonderful and magnificent it is impossible to keep it to yourself. After someone has seen and experienced Christ for him or herself the only response is to share that experience with others. Mary ponders what she has heard and seen (Call). Whenever God does something and allows us to witness it, it is always a call to reflect on what God has done. Reflection is the call to come to know God better. The shepherd’s celebrate what has been confirmed to them (Response). God confirming His activity in and around us is cause for celebration. Gratitude is an action word. If we are truly grateful to God for confirming His word and action to us how can we not respond with joy.
The angel’s announcement of the birth of Christ is God calling us to come and hear the good news. It is God speaking directly to us to make us aware that through Christ, God has come to be with us personally and corporately. The appearance of the heavenly host and their celebration of God’s announcement is God raising our level of consciousness and teaching us that good news is to be celebrated. The ensuing action of the shepherd’s points to the need for further investigation of what we hear, sharing God’s confirmation of what we have heard and seen, and offering God praise for what He has allowed us to hear, see, and confirmed to be true.
The concept of “call and response” is not new, but rather it is a method that has been employed since the beginning of time. If we go all the way back to the Garden of Eden, we see that God called and Adam answered. God called and Abraham answered. God called and Moses, Joshua, the Judges, the Prophets, and even some of the Monarch’s all answered. Throughout the church age we also see this formula repeated time and time again. On the Day of Pentecost God using the Apostle Peter issued a call to people from different countries that spoke different languages and they responded. During the Reformation, God issued a call through the Reformers and people responded. The Era of the Great Awakening a few centuries later saw God again issuing a call through the Great Awakeners and again people responded. In our own time, Billy Graham the great evangelist allowed God to use him calling people from all over the globe and people responded. The point is simple, everywhere the Word of God is proclaimed there is a call attached to the Word and the call is intended to produce a response from the hearers of the Word. One of the interesting things about God’s call is that it has not changed in over 2000 years. God’s call is simply, Come to Christ. The call to come to Christ is God making known God’s awareness of our need for Christ in our lives. Inherent in God’s call is God’s acknowledgement that apart from Christ in our lives we will always feel like something is missing. The call to come to Christ is God’s offering to supply us with what is missing from our lives.
The other side to this is that we will only respond to God’s call if, and when we become aware that Christ alone completes us. The shepherd’s were sitting and standing around doing what shepherd’s do. They were living a ho-hum existence. They were existing and surviving and then God showed up and offered them something more. God offered to breathe some life into a ho-hum existence by infusing it with a sense of mission and purpose. God made them aware that they could do more than tend sheep, but they had to come to Christ. It is interesting that after the shepherds came to Christ they were transformed they literally became different people. Whereas, they were standing around prior to coming to Christ after they encountered Christ they started moving around. Not only did they start moving around, but they also moved intently with a sense of mission and purpose. In addition, we see that whatever they received from that experience they did not try to keep it for themselves, but they shared their experience with all whom they came in contact with.
The shepherd’s experience teaches us that Jesus the Light of awareness is informative. When a light is turned on it reveals things that perhaps were previously hidden, missing, or even lacking. After being exposed to Jesus the Light of awareness the shepherd’s found what was missing from their lives. They became informed that they no longer were relegated to living a shepherd’s existence. Sheepherding may have been their job, but in the Light of awareness they discovered the missing ingredients from their lives passion and purpose.
The shepherd’s discovered that God is a responsive God. As they went to see for themselves, up close and personal, they came to understand that Jesus the Light of awareness is God’s response to all human need. God saw that a void existed in the lives of men, women, and children and that as long as people tried to fill the void with everything human a hole would become a crater and consume us leading to our own destruction. God demonstrated His response to our need by coming into our world and personally filling the void.
The shepherd’s who probably were not expecting much on that day or from the balance of their days were never the same after they encountered Christ. On that night they found out that Jesus the Light of awareness is a transformative light. On that night the shepherd’s became awakened to the reality that it only takes one encounter with Jesus for the rest of your life to be changed. It only takes a few moments in the presence of Christ for the fortunes, destiny, course and direction of a man, woman, or child’s life to be changed forever.
Perhaps the most profound lessons the shepherd’s learned that night centered on the relationship between worship and personal response. That night everything was about worship and the worship that took place that night was a personal response to the awareness of who Christ is and His presence in our midst. This is the power of Jesus the light of awareness, he helps us to see Him as He is and to recognize His significance when we are in His presence. When we become aware of whom Jesus is, the significance He holds, and difference He makes in our lives, then we will be ready to worship Him.