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An Authentic Christmas

Luke 2:8-9 


And in the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields, and keeping watch over their flock by night. [9] And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 

When you gather around the Christmas tree tonight or tomorrow morning, will you enjoy an authentic Christmas? When I say the phrase authentic Christmas, what words come to your mind? Close your eyes and let your mind wander for a minute. Can you smell the turkey roasting? Can you see the lights reflect off the tree ornaments? Can you taste the distinct flavor of egg nog? Can you hear the sounds of a crackling fire from the fireplace? Can you feel the electricity in the air generated by excited children? 

My reflections upon Christmases past and my hopes for Christmases future usually involve warm memories like the one's you've just experienced. They flash through my mind in rapid succession from early childhood to today. They become touchstones for me that remind me that life is good, and in the spirit of the anticipation of Christmas Eve, that it might just get better.

As wonderful as these images are, they are not what I mean by "Authentic Christmas." From the Biblical narrative, several words jump from the page, many of them are included in our Christmas Hymns. Words like peace, hope, joy, Emmanuel, silent night, stable, shepherds, wise men, gifts, angels, manager, fear. Fear? Yes, fear.

Even if we include the religious trappings of Christmas and avoid the commercialism trap, we are not experiencing an authentic Christmas unless we experience the Glory of God and recover a holy fear of the Lord. When the Angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds and they were encompassed by the glory of the Lord, the scripture says " they were terribly frightened."

Have we lost a sense of fear of God? Have we become so familiar with God that we've lost the sense of awe we should have when His name is mentioned? Have we become so pragmatic and programmed that we've drifted away from the sense of reverence that used to accompany any worship service?

John Franklin, Prayer/Discipleship Specialist for LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention recently said, "Some say become relevant, be contextual, nontraditional, change the way we do church. These things may be needed, but they are not enough. We must rediscover the 'Fear of God.'"

Christmas is a wonderful opportunity to rediscover the "fear of God." This holy fear is woven throughout the Christmas story. When the angel of the Lord appeared to Zacharias, the scripture says, "fear gripped him." (Luke 1:12). And the angel told Mary to "fear not." (Luke 1:30)

Why did they have this holy fear? Well on one level, most of us would be a tad frightened if an angel appeared to us, wouldn't we? But on another level, this fear resulted from one thing: exposure to the glory of God. Verse 9 says, "and the glory of the Lord shone around them;"

Wherever God's glory is, there is a holy fear.

God's glory descended when Jesus healed the demoniac, resulting in a holy fear. "And they came to Jesus and observed the man who had been demon-possessed sitting down, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the "legion"; and they became frightened." (Mark 5:15 NASB)

A holy fear accompanied God's glory when Jesus walked on the water. "When therefore they had rowed about three or four miles, they beheld Jesus walking on the sea and drawing near to the boat; and they were frightened." (John 6:19 NASB)

A holy fear accompanied God's glory when Jesus rose from the grave. "Now the centurion, and those who were with him keeping guard over Jesus, when they saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, became very frightened and said, 'Truly this was the Son of God!'" (Matthew 27:54)

So there is no wonder that a holy fear accompanied the announcement of God becoming man to save His people from their sins. It was a moment in time when God's glory broke through on earth. It was as if heaven couldn't contain it anymore. The angel's words were a trumpet blast, proclaiming "Joy to the World, the Lord has come."

The creator God, was about to become man, but before He did, he sent the angel that stands in His presence to tell a few people, and with the message, came His glory, accompanied by a holy fear.

Who were the special recipients of the glory of God? A priest, a carpenter, a teenage girl and a bunch of shepherds Why this cast of characters?.

The teenage girl we know. She was going to give birth to the Messiah of Israel, the Savior of the World: Jesus Christ. On a need to know basis, she needed to know.

Why the priest? Not because of his vocation. God sent His angel to speak to Zacharias because of who his wife was, not because of what he did for a living. Zacharias and Elizabeth, both well advanced in their age, were about to be the proud parents of a bouncing baby prophet: John the Baptist. After years of wanting a child, followed by years of wishing they could stop longing for one, the angel of the Lord came with a message, that their prayers were answered. They would have a child. But not just any child, this one was the forerunner of the Messiah, the one that would cry out, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord."

Why the carpenter? Not because of his vocation either. God sent His angel to speak to Joseph because of who his wife was going to be, not because of what he did for a living. Matthew 1:20-21 tells the story: " . . .an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. [21] And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins." 

Mary I understand, Zacharias I understand and Joseph I understand-they were all personally involved. In a sense, they were family, they needed to know. But why the shepherds?

Most of us don't know a whole lot about shepherds. When you thumb through the classifieds in the local paper, you'll not find many ads for shepherds today. Personally, I always think of children wearing their Dad's bathrobes in a Christmas play when I hear the word shepherd, what about you?

Shepherds weren't admired in Biblical times. They are called loathsome in Genesis 46:34. In fact, being a shepherd was considered punishment. Numbers 14:33 says, "And your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they shall suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness." 

"The shepherds were despised by the orthodox good people of the day. Shepherds were quite unable to keep the details of the ceremonial law; they could not observe all the meticulous hand washings and rules and regulations. Their flocks made far too constant demands on them; and so the orthodox looked down on them as very common people." (Barclay, p. 17)

So why did the angel appear to these shepherds? Unlike Zacharias and Joseph, I am convinced it was because of their occupation. It could be that these were common shepherds who tended flocks to be sold for their meat or wool. Or it could have been that the sheep they tended were used as lambs for the ceremonial temple sacrifice. 

The angel of the Lord appeared to these common men-these loathsome men, to give a glorious message. And when the shepherds saw the glory of God that accompanied the angel, they had a healthy, holy fear. With a fear of the Lord, the shepherds were spiritually prepared to hear the angel's message. "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people;" (Luke 2:10 NASB)

As the angel disappeared, the shepherds looked over their flocks and realized that the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," would soon be born, and He will save the people from their sins.

The good news wasn't just for the elite religious community or for those who would care for the Messiah as He grew to become a man, it was for "all the people"-even shepherds. Even me. And even you.

My prayer for you this Christmas is that you might experience the glory of God and when you do, it might be accompanied by a holy fear. Because only when you have a holy fear, can you clearly hear the words of the angel, "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people;" 

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