God's Greatest Gift

December 23, 2018

This past Tuesday I saw a stained glass window glowing in the sun at the church. It was various shades of purple and rose. It was beautiful. My first thought was, “I wish I could express the beauty of those colors in music.” But there is something intangible about the beauty of color and music.

In fact it seems to me that our lives are filled with experiences that point us to something deeper that we all long for. Whether you experience that longing in a Jane Austin novel, or in the soft beauty of a snowy day, or in the smell of cinnamon coming from the glow of a candle, all of us have deep longings that cannot be fully satisfied by anything in this world.

I believe this is because what we are longing for is something only God can satisfy. And if it is a longing that only God can satisfy, then this longing will not be fulfilled apart from God. Advent and Christmas are all about God fulfilling our deepest longings in Jesus Christ. God’s greatest gift to the world is Jesus Christ.


Most of us have been over this scriptural ground so many times that we can almost quote the passages in our sleep. We are very familiar with the stories surrounding Jesus’ birth. We love these stories because they are about Jesus. But because they are so familiar we can easily take them for granted.

Imagine that the President of the United States is coming to Chicago. I am pretty sure that you and I would not be the first ones to hear about it. No secret service detail would knock on our door to inform us that the President is coming. That news would be given to the important people of Illinois and Chicago. What is more, you and I would never expect to receive such a message. It would never occur to us to be disappointed that we were overlooked in the announcement. We don’t travel in those circles.

So when we read v.8-9 it is important to consider who these shepherds are. To say that they were nobodies or were despised by society would not be accurate. Shepherds do not get a bum rap in the Bible. Israel’s kings are likened to shepherds and even the Messiah is likened to a shepherd. In Mic.5:4, referring to the coming Messiah we read, “And he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God.”

But even though shepherds are not to be despised, they are nowhere close to being ranked among the beautiful people of society. Sheep must be constantly attended to and you have to make up your mind that you are going to have dirty hands and clothes. You are going to spend a lot of time outdoors and you won’t be getting rich any time soon. As a shepherd boy, I don’t imagine David was dreaming about being Israel’s next king. And I doubt that any king after David was dreaming of being a shepherd. A shepherd’s dream for a better life was just that, a dream. So when the angel appeared to these shepherds it would have seemed out of place. They were probably wondering why on earth an angel would appear to them.

And of course, that is exactly the question Luke wants us to think about. In Pro.3:34, we read that the Lord gives favor to the humble. In 1Pt.5:5 it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." These shepherds represent the lowly and humble of society. In Lk.2:1-7 the passage begins with Caesar Augustus and takes us to the lowly stable which houses Jesus, who is the center of power. From the stable the birth announcement goes to the lowly of society. It’s not that those on the lower ends of society are more worthy of the gospel news. We are all sinners. But the reality is that those who are lowly seem to be more receptive to the gospel news. In Mt.21 Jesus points out that it is the tax collectors and prostitutes who were going into the kingdom of God ahead of the Chief Priests and Pharisees because they heard and believed. The lowly are more apt to understand their need for a savior. And throughout scripture, God seems to take delight in turning worldly assessments of power and greatness on their heads.

Regardless of your status in this world, the question is do you recognize your need for Jesus, the Savior? “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” No one enters into life in the kingdom of God on the basis of their status in society. But a person of lowly social status is a picture of the kind of person who is most receptive to Jesus. The shepherds had little and yet they received the greatest news ever given.


An inscription in stone going back to 9 BC, uses the term "gospel" in referring to Caesar Augustus. It refers to the birthday of Caesar Augustus as the beginning of an era, the beginning of the gospel announcing his kingdom that heralded peace and salvation for his people. The inscription says that Augustus was sent as a savior, that he might end war and arrange all things. He is referred to as a god who was the beginning of the good news for the world.

Now listen to Luke’s account in v.10-14. "And the angel said to them, Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and 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 among those with whom he is pleased!"

Four words stand out. Jesus is called a “Savior.” The word means, deliverer. It refers to someone who brings deliverance from enemies, disease, sickness, and peril. In Ps.107 we read about people who experienced various kinds of peril and who cried out to God, who delivered them. Jesus is a savior.

And then we see the title, “Christ,” or “Messiah.” The word refers to God’s anointed king. The nation of Israel was looking for the Messiah whose coming had been prophesied so many years ago. The Messiah would reign on David’s throne forever, putting all things right.

This Christ is called, the “Lord.” Lord is a term of respect. In Lk.1, Luke uses the word, Lord, to refer to God. I don’t imagine the shepherds thought that the baby was God, but certainly as we move through Luke’s gospel we come to see that, in fact, Jesus is God in the flesh. By putting these terms together the angel is announcing the birth of Israel’s Messiah sent by God to bring salvation.

The fourth word is found in v.14. It is the word, “peace.” Being sent by God, means that Jesus brings the peace of God. In other words, this is not the peace given by the world. This is the peace given by God. In Is.26:1-4 we read, “In that day this song will be sung in the land of Judah: "We have a strong city; he sets up salvation as walls and bulwarks. Open the gates, that the righteous nation that keeps faith may enter in. You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you. Trust in the LORD forever, for the LORD GOD is an everlasting rock.” This is the peace that Jesus brings. Since this peace comes from God, in order to enter into it, one must be at peace with God.

How much the shepherds understood is not known. What they saw and heard was astounding to them. God was announcing something unbelievable. But there was the multitude of angels in full voice praising God. “Glory to God in the highest.” The shepherds were all ears and wanted this peace.

When Augustus was born he had no standing. His rise to power involved a great deal of political intrigue and warfare. He did bring an era of peace that lasted some 200 years. But peace came at a stiff price because it was often maintained through the brutal use of power and violence. That is the kind of peace the world gives. The peace of this world must be enforced and protected with treaties, armies, and weapons.

Unlike Augustus, Jesus was born a king. Jesus would also usher in an era of peace. But the peace that Jesus gives is not like the peace of this world. Jesus did not bring peace using weapons and armies. Jesus’ way of bringing peace is established for us by his birth in the lowly stable. His humble birth was lived out in his humble life of bringing deliverance from sin, sickness, death, and the power of the devil. His humble life was sacrificed on the cross of humiliation and shame, dying the death of a slave. But he was raised in power and great glory. As John tells us, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.”

In Jn.14:27 Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” The peace that Jesus gives is first of all peace with God through the forgiveness of our sins and the receiving of his eternal resurrection living in his kingdom. If we are living in the kingdom of God even as we live on this earth, we can enter into and experience God’s peace even in this world of trouble.


When the angels went back into heaven, what happened? We read, “…the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger.” They believed the angel’s message. Because the angel spoke about an actual birth of a baby who was lying in a manger, they could easily check it out. And they did. They decided to see for themselves. After all, the angel said, “Unto you is born this day.” This birth announcement was not just for all, but for them. And it is for you.

There was the baby, lying in a feeding trough for animals! It doesn’t seem that they were at the manger very long. The next verse says that, “…they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.” Meanwhile, v.19 says that, “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.”

This is interesting. The shepherds heard the gospel and they immediately went to check it out. My sense is that they fully believed Jesus is the Messiah. In v.20 we read that, “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” Not only are the shepherds praising God for sending the Messiah, but they are bearing the good news about Jesus to others. The shepherds believed.

What about the others? Did they believe? It says that they wondered or marveled or were amazed at what the shepherds said. This word, “wondered” appears numerous times in Luke. People were often amazed, or filled with wonder about Jesus but they didn’t necessarily believe in Jesus. In Lk.20 the chief priests tried to trap Jesus. It says in v.26, “And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent.” It’s the same word. The chief priests didn’t believe in Jesus. Perhaps some of these people who heard the shepherds believed but there is no way of knowing.

What is faith? Faith is ongoing confidence and trust. In the case of the shepherds they exercised faith in the angel’s message. But when they went to the stable they transferred their faith to Jesus. Faith is a commitment of belief and action. The people who heard the shepherds were amazed but we don’t sense that they acted on their amazement. It doesn’t say that they went to see Jesus.

What does it mean to have faith in Jesus? It means to commit oneself to Jesus, trusting him for life and forgiveness of sins. He is the savior. Faith involves living in accordance with what you believe. Mary is a picture of the ongoing nature of faith. Mary treasured and pondered in her heart. That is how faith stays vibrant. We regularly bring before our minds the truth about Jesus Christ who was born, lived, died for our sin, and rose again. We immerse ourselves in the life and teachings of Jesus. We place our hope for life and eternity in Christ.

In two days it will be Christmas. Gifts will be exchanged and opened. There will be smiles of joy and maybe a few disappointments. The thing you were longing for will have to wait for another year. But your deepest longing and need is for Jesus Christ. And you can have Jesus right now. Jesus Christ is God’s greatest gift to all who will have him. Call upon Jesus in faith to save you from your sins and the emptiness of this world’s broken dreams. Amen