I’m curious, how many of you had your Christmas shopping done before Thanksgiving?
How many of you had it done by the time Black Friday was over?
How many of you finished last week?
How many of you are going to be hitting the Weis store tonight hoping to find that perfect gift?
I hate to say it… that would be me.
I am not a very timely shopper. It takes me forever to buy anything because I am convinced I will be able find it in the next store for less, or I’ll be able to get it on Amazon and they might ship it for free. Or I’ll wait for it to go on sale because at some point in time everything goes on sale. No matter what I think, the end result is I end up at Weis on Christmas Eve looking for the perfect gift and yes, I have already been there today!
I wish I could learn my lesson from year to year and not wait so long to buy gifts or send our cards but each year it’s the same thing, I wait and in the end I not only miss out on the gift, but I also miss out on the gift of the season which is peace. If you are like me and always seem to be waiting for another day and putting off to tomorrow what could be done today, then let me take you back to part of the Christmas story that I often overlook, look at Luke 2: 15-16. 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.
Did you hear it… after the shepherds got the news that a messiah had been born it says they hurried off. The shepherds didn’t wait. They didn’t wait until morning to go look for the child even though the morning light would be better for them to travel and less intimidating for a young family to welcome visitors. They didn’t wait until their job took them back into the city of Bethlehem at the end of the week or month. They didn’t wait. It says they went with haste and maybe that is the lesson we need to learn tonight – don’t wait.
The time is now. Tonight is the night for us to accept the gift of life that God offer us in Jesus and for us to do that we need to keep following the example of the shepherds. If we want to take this moment to find Jesus, then there are three things the shepherds did that we need to do and the first one is to stop making excuses about not looking for Jesus. Too many times we put off turning to God or looking for Jesus to be a part of our lives because we don’t think we are worthy of God’s love and grace. The shepherds didn’t do that. They didn’t make any excuses. There was no discussion about how they were the lowest of the low in Israel and how even if they found this Messiah they wouldn’t be able to get close to him because people considered them unclean. They didn’t talk about how they weren’t educated enough, smart enough, rich enough, talented enough or good enough to go and find Jesus – they just went. They didn’t make any excuses and neither can we.
Too often we don’t turn to God and reach out to Jesus because we don’t think God wants anything to do with us. After all I’ve done, after all I haven’t done, after all my failures, all my mistakes, all my sin why should I bother searching for Jesus because God can’t possible love me. Too often these are the thoughts that keep us from God and what we fail to remember when we make those excuses is the truth that God loves us unconditionally. That the first people told to go and find Jesus were a group of shepherds tells us that God came for all of us. He came for you and me no matter what we have done or not done. In fact, Romans 8 says there is nothing that can keep God from loving us - Romans 8:35, 37-39. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons,neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord
There is nothing that can keep God from us so if we will hurry off and search for Jesus – we will find him. The time is now. No more excuses and no more waiting for another day, tonight is the night for us to turn our hearts and lives toward God. The shepherds didn’t make excuses and they didn’t wait for another day, and neither should we. Think about what would have happened if the shepherds had waited until the morning, or the next week to go find Jesus, they would have missed him all together.
What was the sign to the shepherds that they had found the right child in Bethlehem? The Messiah was going to be the one lying in a manger. Now I can’t believe Mary and Joseph used the manger as a crib for very long, maybe only that first night, so if the shepherds had waited – they would have missed the opportunity of finding Jesus at all. If we wait to turn to God we might miss the opportunity as well. God is calling us now, tonight and God has worked out all the details of our lives for us to find him in this moment and if we wait, we might miss out on the experience of seeing Jesus. The time is now to start looking for God and turning to Jesus, we can’t wait.
Now once the shepherds decided to go, they went and searched through stables and dug around in mangers to find Jesus, now why did they do this? Why look in mangers? It was because the angel told them to. They were following the instructions given to them and this is the second lesson we need to learn from the shepherds. If we want to find Jesus then the best thing we can do is turn to and trust in God’s word. If we want to find Jesus and experience the love and grace of God then the best place to find it is right here because this is where we hear about God’s love and forgiveness offered to us through Jesus.
In 2 Corinthians 5 it says, in Christ God is reconciling the world to himself, not counting our sins against us. In other words, God forgives our sin through the child the shepherds found lying in a manger and it is this forgiveness that brings us back into a relationship with God. We also find in God’s word the timeless message of love and salvation. John 3:16 says, God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son so that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life. God’s love not only sent Jesus to save the world on that first Christmas, but God’s love through Jesus still saves us and offers us life on this Christmas. When we search for Jesus in God’s word, we will find him because God’s word is living and active and the message we find here shapes our hearts and lives and brings us life.
So the time is now for us to stop making excuses and search for Jesus in the message of love and peace we find in God’s word, but there is one more thing we need to do if we want to follow the example of the shepherds. Even though it is not recorded in Luke 2, I have to believe that once the shepherds found Jesus lying in the manger – they reached out to touch him. Maybe they asked Mary if they could hold him. The reason I think this is because for most of us it is our natural inclination when we see a child to want to hold him or at least reach out and touch her little fingers, toes or face. For those of you who are parents, you know the greatest feeling in the world is holding your child and it may not even matter how old they are.
Now think about what is involved in holding a child. The first thing you have to do is let go of everything else you are holding on to so you can take the child in your arms. You can’t hold a cup of coffee and take hold of a child. You can’t keep working and take hold of a child – you have to let go and for us to take hold of Jesus we have to be willing to let go of what we are holding on to. Maybe we need to let go of pride and ego and this crazy idea that we don’t need anyone or anything to help us make it in life. Maybe we need to let go of all our good works and possessions that we think will save us. Maybe we need to let go of our sin that we often use as a way of keeping God and others from us. Whatever it is that we are holding on to tonight we need to let it go of so we can grab hold of God.
The second thing we have to do in order to hold a child is allow him or her to get close to us. Unless there is some kind of diaper malfunction, we don’t hold a child out here (at arm’s length) we hold them right here, next to our hearts. We allow them to get close to us. We become vulnerable with them and draw them in and this is how we need to hold Jesus. We need to let Jesus get close to us and see us for who we really are. We need to get real with God and show him all there is to us and allow his love and grace to bring healing, hope and peace to all of who we are. If we are willing to do this – we will find all the fullness and power of life.
When I was in seminary there was a year I went through a difficult semester emotionally and spiritually. I was just empty. My sister and her family who had been living close to me in NC had moved to Atlanta so I was also feeling alone and the pain of loneliness, doubt and fear was real. During my spring break I travelled to Atlanta to be with my family and I met my sister, niece and nephew at a rest stop outside of the city. When my niece, who was maybe 3 or 4 at the time, saw me in the parking lot, she ran up and practically jumped into my arms and when I was able to draw her close – I felt hope and healing begin. I think this is how it is with God. When we are open to God and draw Jesus close he draws us close and in his embrace we find life. We find healing for whatever is breaking our hearts and the grace and love that fills up those empty areas of our life.
I believe the shepherds didn’t just look at Jesus but looked at Mary and Joseph and asked them, can we hold him in our arms? I imagine them tenderly holding Jesus and finding in that embrace the love of God that brings salvation, healing and eternal life. The reason I believe the shepherds got to experience this is because when they left the stable it says they returned to the fields changed. They were filled with such passion and power that their testimony about Jesus amazed people. So something happened at the manger that changed the shepherds and I believe it was the power and love of God. When they allowed God to get close to them – God filled them with hope and peace and a new life.
Tonight it’s our turn. The time is now. Something can happen at the manger if we will stop making excuses and allow the power and love of God to change us. Something can happen if we will allow God to get close and fill our hearts and lives. The time is now. Tonight is the night we need to drop whatever we are holding on to and get real with God and allow him to love us and forgive us. Don’t wait for another day. Don’t wait for a better deal, the time is now for us to look for, find and hold on to Jesus. This is the moment of salvation, this is the moment we can find life.