What Christmas is all About # 2, Christmas is about the Story

December 6, 2015

For millions of people over the past fifty
years the only exposure they have had to the bible happened each Christmas as
Linus read Luke chapter 2 verses 8 to 14 from the King James version in
response to Charlie Brown’s questions: 
Doesn’t anyone know what Christmas is all about.

And when Linus is done he turns to Charlie
Brown and tells him, “and that’s what Christmas is all about.”

But is that it? Can Christmas really be
summed up in 6 verses of the bible?  And
understand that isn’t the entire Christmas story it is really just giving us a
glimpse of the entire story, but for Linus this is what Christmas is all about.

A Charlie Brown Christmas celebrates its
fiftieth anniversary this year, and millions of people around the world have
watched as Charlie Brown struggles with his conflicting feelings over the
Christmas Season.  Finally, after
watching how his peers react to the season Charlie brown asks his friend Linus
in frustration, “Isn’t there anyone who know what Christmas is really all
about?” 

And that’s a good question, a question that
he felt wasn’t being answered by those around him.  Last Sunday when we began our series we took
a little bit of time to see what it was that Charlie Brown saw in those around
him.

For Snoopy Christmas was all about the
season of Christmas, the lights the food, all the glamour and glitz that
surrounds Christmas.  For Lucy Christmas
was all about what had to be done, all about the effort.  From organizing the Christmas Play, to making
sure they had the perfect tree to counselling Charlie Brown on how to achieve
Christmas bliss, her solution.  Get
involved.  For Sally, Charlie Brown’s
little sister Christmas was all about Sally, what she wanted and expected Santa
to bring her on the big day.  And for
Charlie Brown himself Christmas was about despair he was down and depressed and
the holiday did nothing to improve his mood. 

And then there was Linus, last week I
mentioned that for Linus Christmas was all about the Christmas story.  But I wondered if that was as far as it went
with Linus.  While Snoopy was quite happy
for Christmas to be nothing more than a holiday it seemed that for Linus it was
nothing more that then that fragment of the Christmas story.

But is that enough?  Can we capture all of the Christmas story in
those six verses?  Well today we are
looking at What Christmas is all about, according to Luke 2:8-14.

Let’s start where Linus started: 

Luke 2:8  And there were in the
same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by
night.

For
Linus Christmas was About the Shepherds

And really shepherds are an iconic part of
the Christmas story.  They play a
prominent role in Christmas cards and Christmas carols, when we have extra kids
for the Christmas pageant we give them a towel and a bathroom and voila we have
more shepherds. 

Linus was even geared up to play a shepherd
in the Christmas play that Charlie Brown was trying to direct.

But what do we know about these shepherds?  Not much, and that’s what makes the story so
great. 

Because they made it into the Christmas
story we make them special, but they really weren’t, they were just a bunch of
guys who watched sheep for a living. They probably didn’t need an advanced
degree in agricultural science to qualify for the job. 

I know, it seems as if God has a special
place for shepherds in the bible.

Abel who was commended for his offering was
a shepherd.  Abraham who would be the
father of Israel had flocks of sheep, Moses who led the people of Israel out of
the slavery of Egypt was a shepherd and David, Israel’s greatest king and the
writer of the psalms, was a shepherd.  

When King David was looking for just the
right description of the compassion of God he wrote in the 23rd
Psalm “The Lord is my shepherd” and Jesus referred to himself as the good
Shepherd.

To my point exactly, Israel was an
agricultural society and sheep made up a big portion of that industry.  There were all kinds of shepherds and it was
a natural illustration and analogy because everywhere you looked someone was tending
sheep.

And that is what makes this part of the
story great, the fact that they weren’t special. 

I mean if I was God, creator of all things,
master of the universe and I was announcing the birth of my Son I’m not sure
that shepherds would have made the short list. 
Or for that matter the long list. 
Kings, emperors, potentates they would have been the ones on my list,
not the keepers of sheep.

But these guys were just ordinary people
with ordinary jobs.  Nothing special,
just a bunch of shepherds doing what shepherds do, watching their flocks.  These guys weren’t even the first string,
they were the night shift.

Now that being said there are those who
have speculated that even though they were shepherds they may not have been
your everyday run of the mill shepherds. 
Culturally we are told that because of the frequent sacrifices at the
temple, every morning and evening an unblemished lamb was to be sacrificed,
that the temple authorities kept their own private flock of sheep. 

And historically we are told that these
sheep would have been pastured near Bethlehem. 
And if all of those things are true then there is a pretty good chance
that these shepherds were in charge of the flocks from which the temple
offerings were chosen.  And if that is
the case then it is pretty cool that the birth of the “Lamb of God” who would
take away the sins of the world was first announced to those whose job it was
to take care of the temple lambs, who were sacrificed for people’s sins.

But we don’t know that for sure, what we do
know is that into the ordinary lives of ordinary men is injected an
extraordinary event.  Most of us aren’t
special enough for God to take an interest in our lives, but He does.  Remember the words of Jesus in Luke 12:6-7 “What is the
price of five sparrows—two copper coins? Yet God does not forget a single one
of them. And the very hairs on your head are all numbered. So don’t be afraid;
you are more valuable to God than a whole flock of sparrows.

  Let’
continue with the story,  Luke 2:9,10,13 & 14  And,
lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round
about them: and they were sore afraid.  And the angel said unto them, “Fear
not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all
people” . . . 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, good will toward men.”

For
Linus Christmas was About the Angels

What would Christmas be without angels? 
They are an integral part of Christmas, if we didn’t have angels what
would we put on the top of our trees? 
And what would the little ones dress up as in the Christmas play; you
only need so many shepherds.  The
Christmas story starts and ends with angels along with angels in the middle,
and how could we expect anything less. 
It’s not everyday that God, the creator of the universe forsakes heaven
and comes to earth born as a baby in a stable outside a crowded inn. For an
event that was so incredible only angels could be the appropriate messengers.

Now for a little background.  Although angels are mentioned over 300 times
in the bible we really don’t know a lot about them, and most of what we know is
tradition and myth pure speculation fuelled by what I call the “Angel Cult”.

During recent years angels have become the
spiritual creature of choice.  And why
not? According to the angel cult angels are loving and caring, they’re cute and
cuddly and make no demands on our spirituality or morality and are there for
everyone.

Don’t want to burst your bubble but It’s
only speculation that angels have wings, wear halos and play harps.  We no more know what an angel looks like then
we know what an angel eats.  Although Mark Twain said “When one has tasted Watermelon he knows what the
angels eat.”  And while I normally
am in agreement with Twain I think Angels probably eat burgers.

The Christmas story is rife with
Angels.  It begins with the birth of
John, Jesus’ cousin.  You probably know
the story, but here’s a refresher. 

Mary, Jesus’ mother had a relative, we’ll
call her a cousin, named Elizabeth, who was married to a priest by the name of
Zechariah.  In Luke’s gospel we are told that
Elizabeth and Zechariah were unable to have children and that they were very
old.  Probably in their forties. 

And listen to what happened one day when
Zechariah had been chosen to go into the temple sanctuary to burn incense as an
offering.  We pick up the story in Luke 1:11-13  While
Zechariah was in the sanctuary, an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing
to the right of the incense altar.  Zechariah was shaken and overwhelmed
with fear when he saw him.  But the angel said, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah!
God has heard your prayer. Your wife, Elizabeth, will give you a son, and you
are to name him John.  That child,
born six months before Jesus would go on to become the man we know as John the
Baptist, who announced the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and actually baptized
Jesus in the Jordan river.  And going
back to the story we read, Luke 1:26-27 In the sixth month of
Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a village in
Galilee,  to a virgin named Mary. She was engaged to be married to a man
named Joseph, a descendant of King David.

And it was that angel who announced to Mary
that she was going to become pregnant, or as we would say in Australia “She was
going to fall pregnant.”  When Mary
objects, telling the angel that she was a virgin, and the word that Mary uses
for virgin means virgin.  Not young lady
or unmarried maiden but virgin, we read Luke 1:35
& 37
 The angel replied, “The Holy
Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you.
So the baby to be born will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. . . For
nothing is impossible with God.”

And Mary said “Ok”, well that was actually
a paraphrase but you get the gist.  And
you have to wonder what her family thought when she broke the news to
them.  We know that her fiancé, Joseph.
struggled with her story.  He wanted to
break off the engagement and it was only when an angel appeared to him that he
accepted what she said. 

Matthew 1:20 As he considered this, an angel of the Lord
appeared to him in a dream. “Joseph, son of David,” the angel said, “do not be
afraid to take Mary as your wife. For the child within her was conceived by the
Holy Spirit.

And the angels don’t end there.  In the passage we started with it’s as if the
angels can’t hold back their joy as they appear to the shepherds in the sky,
bringing Tidings of Great joy.

And then an Angel appears to Mary and
Joseph again, this time not with an announcement but with a warning.  When Herod heard about the Christ child he
went berserk and ordered all the boy infants in Bethlehem to be killed and we
pick up the story in Matthew 2:13  After the wise men were
gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up! Flee to
Egypt with the child and his mother,” the angel said. “Stay there until I tell
you to return, because Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”   And when Herod died the
angel appeared to the family once again to let them know it was safe to return
home. 

So yeah, Linus is pretty much right on,
Christmas is about Angels, but there is more to the story. 

Luke 2:11-12  For unto you is born this day in the city of
David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a
sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a
manger.

For
Linus Christmas was All About the Baby
  It’s interesting that Linus doesn’t go deeper
than that specfic verse, he doesn’t name Jesus as a matter of fact he leaves a
whole bunch of questions unanswered:  Who
was the child?  Why was he born in
Bethlehem?  Why was he born in a stable?

But fifty years ago there was a pretty good
chance that most people would have known the answers to those questions. 

Did a little digging on line and discovered
that in the US, in 1965 47 percent of the population said they had been to
church in the past seven days.  47%,
that’s impressive.  Even non-churched
families got their kids into Sunday School because it was the right thing to do
and so the Christmas story would have been fairly well known.

Most folks would have known about the
Shepherds and the Angels and the baby Jesus. 
And they probably would have known that his mother was a virgin named
Mary, and that her and her husband, Joseph, were in Bethlehem for a census
where they couldn’t find a room to stay in and ended up in a stable.  And they probably would have at least had a
passing knowledge that Jesus was the Son of God.    

Two thousand years ago the Christ child was
a surprise to the people of Israel.  They
were waiting in anticipation for their Messiah, for God to appear and make
everything right, but they weren’t expecting Him to come as a child.

The poet George
MacDonald wrote, “They all were looking for
a king
To slay their foes and lift them high;
Thou cam’st a little Baby thing
That made a woman cry.” 

But the baby really isn’t a surprise today,
we may bemoan the fact that people don’t know the story, but to be truthful,
even today a lot of folks know about the shepherds, the angels and the baby
Jesus, if only vaguely.  Instead of
learning about the Christmas story in Sunday School, now they are educated in
Christmas by Christmas cards, Christmas carols and Christmas specials.

And most people don’t have a problem with
the baby Jesus.  After all he’s safe and
doesn’t demand much of us, not even the demands of most newborns.  The baby Jesus doesn’t demand to be fed on a
regular schedule, doesn’t ask that we change his diaper and doesn’t keep us up
at night.  Kind of like having a
grand-kid

And so Linus figured he had nailed it, Christmas
was all about the story.  And Linus had
all the main characters safely where they belonged, the Shepherds in the
fields, the Angels in the sky and the baby in the manger.  It was a simple as arranging a nativity
scene.

And so Christmas is about the story, and
the essence is summed up in those 6 verses that Linus reads so eloquently. 

Because as hard as people might try, they
can’t separate Christmas from the story. 
Christ is an integral part of the word Christmas, take out Christ and
you are left with Mas, a shortened version of the word Mass, which is the
celebration of the Eucharist, or Communion in the
Catholic church.

The star on top of our trees reminds us of
the star that guided the wise men to Bethlehem, the songs we sing remind us of
the angels proclaiming the birth of the king. 

The tree was given to us by Martin Luther a
Catholic priest who was the father of the reformation and the protestant
church.  We give gifts to remember the
gifts that were brought to the Christ Child on that first Christmas. 

Without the story we have no Christmas. 

But that doesn’t answer Charlie Brown’s
question, because what Charlie Brown’s question.  Because what Charlie Brown asks is “Doesn’t
anyone know what Christmas is all about?” And while Christmas is about the
story, that’s not what it’s all about. 

In the scripture that Linus read it ends
with verse 14 which in the King James Version reads,  Luke 2:14  Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good
will toward men.

And if that is what Christmas is all about
then John Lennon was right when he wrote these words, clip
from Happy Christmas. 

But the newer translations put a little different spin
on the words of the Angels, the New International version says Luke 2:14NIV “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests.”  While
the New Living Translation reads Luke 2:14 “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those
with whom God is pleased.”

And who is God pleased with?  The gift of peace, isn’t an absence of war,
regardless of the theology of John Lennon’s song, it is an internal peace.  It is the peace that Jesus spoke about in John 14:27  Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my
peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your
hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” 

And the gift of peace, like the gift of
grace and the gift of forgiveness doesn’t come from believing in a baby born in
a manger, but from believing and following the man Jesus became and not just a
head knowledge, but a heart knowledge. 
And so let’s tie things up with a couple of scriptures.  Ephesians 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith. .
.  And we are told in Hebrews 11:6 And
without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him
must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.   

Has the baby in the story become real for
you?  Until that happens you really won’t
understand what Christmas is really all about.