One of my favorite Christmas Specials—is “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”Does anyone else love that one? You may or may not know this, but this particular special has been around A LONG TIME! In fact, it made its debut on December 9, 1965. That’s 53 years ago TODAY.
Here’s some more little-known information. This Charlie Brown Christmas deal was written very quickly—in just a few weeks—and it was animated on a shoestring budget in only six months. The soundtrack was unorthodox—and there was no laugh track. Well, with all this in mind, the producers feared it would be a disaster. But that’s not what happened.
- The show received high ratings and great acclaim from critics.
- It has since been honored with both an Emmy and Peabody Award.
- It has been aired during the Christmas season every year since its premiere. I believe it was on this past Thursday night.
- The show’s odd jazz soundtrack achieved commercial success, selling 4 million copies in the US.
- Live theatrical versions have been staged.
I mean, A Charlie Brown Christmas is one of the most successful and loved television shows of all time!
You remember the plot. Charlie Brown finds himself depressed—in spite of the onset of the Christmas season. Lucy suggests it might help him to feel better if he directs a neighborhood Christmas play, but Charlie’s best efforts are ignored and mocked by his peers. Then in the middle of a muddled rehearsal Linus tells Charlie Brown the true meaning of Christmas. Charlie cheers up and the Peanuts gang unites to celebrate the Christmas season. Well, since it is their 53rd anniversary, I thought it would be good for us to let Linus do for us what he does for Charlie Brown—so listen and watch.
CLIP – LINUS READING OF LUKE 2:8-14
Thank you, LINUS, for reminding us of the true meaning of Christmas!
Linus was reading from Luke 2. Let’s pick up where he leaves off.
I’m reading verses: 15-18
15 – 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.”
16 – So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, Who was lying in the manger.
17 – When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this Child,
18 – and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
This morning as we continue our study of The Gospel According to Christmas—or as we put it last week, The GOOD NEWS According to Christmas—I want us to focus on three things about the Gospel that the shepherds’ part in the Christmas story can teach us.
(1) First, they remind us that the Gospel is for EVERYONE.
This fact is seen in the only ones to receive a personal invitation to be there on the night of Jesus’ birth. Who were they? Right! It was the shepherds Linus told us about—and they were a very unlikely group to receive such an invite because they were despised and mistrusted by everyone of that day—for several reasons. First, since caring for sheep was literally a 24-7 kind of job, they couldn’t observe all the meticulous hand-washing rules and regulations required by the Jewish religion. To make matters worse, their flocks kept them away from the temple for weeks at a time which made it next to impossible for them to be made clean in the eyes of Jewish law.
And—you would think that this demanding of a job would pay well but it didn’t. In fact, no job paid less than that of a shepherd which put these men at the bottom of the ladder financially. Plus—perhaps because of their nearly non-existent pay—they had the reputation for making off with things that did not belong to them—which led people to think of shepherds as crafty and dishonest. In fact, their reputation was so bad that they were not even allowed to bear testimony in a court of law. It was just assumed that people who worked as shepherds were people who would lie.
On top of this they were illiterate—they had no formal schooling whatever. Who has time to go to school when you have to watch sheep 24-7!? So—to summarize, in most people’s minds, shepherds were like gypsies, vagrants, carnival workers, and con men—all rolled into one. They were looked down on as being part of the lowest class of the lowest class of their culture. The only group lower were lepers.
And yet God issued His invitation to these men! As the Christmas Carol puts it, “The FIRST ‘Noel’ the angels did say was to certain poor shepherds in fields where they lay.” Well, these guys are the exact OPPOSITE of the kind of person you and I would invite to a birth—especially the birth of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords! Let me put it this way. When a child is born to a member of British royalty—like back when Princess Kate and Prince William’s sons and daughter were born—well, the first messenger they sent wasn’t to the docks to break the news to the longshoremen and the fishmongers. The royal family didn’t issue personal invitations to the cab drivers of London to come visit these newborn babies in Windsor castle. I didn’t even receive one—but I’m guessing that if any announcements of invitations WERE sent out, they were printed in gold leaf—and hand delivered to political leaders and foreign heads of state.
That’s the way we do this kind of thing, so we would assume that when God’s Son was born, invitations would have gone out to the Roman Caesar or the High priest—or the Pharisees or Sadducees—or the wealthy of the day—but none of these angelic messengers were sent to any of these guys that first Christmas night. No—the choir of Heaven only sang for a few, poor, smelly shepherds—social and religious outcasts. It would be like the NCC rehearsing all year to perform Handel’s Messiah and then giving the concert for a couple guys pumping out someone’s septic tank.
Well, I believe one reason our Heavenly Father intentionally chose the shepherds—was because He wanted to let it be known that His love is all-inclusive. He wanted everyone who would hear this story to realize that He loves all people. God wanted to make sure we know that He is not a respecter of persons. He does not show more respect to kings than He does to hourly wage earners. The point here is that the GOOD NEWS of the GOSPEL—The GOSPEL according to Christmas—is for EVERYONE! Jesus was born for ALL people.
I remember when Daniel was born—and we were going home from the hospital. We were in the elevator with our three-day old son and this unkempt woman got on with us. She was odd looking—her clothes were dirty—and she had a rash on her face. I know I was seeing her through the eyes of a protective father of a newborn but she reminded me of the ugly witch in Snow White. Well, this woman looked at Daniel and asked, “Can I hold him?” Sue and I immediately cringed at the thought—and as tactfully as possible we said, “No.” I mean, we didn’t know this person—this was our precious son. And—at that point in our parenting we weren’t about to risk his health by letting some unkempt stranger hold him. In short—we weren’t going to share our baby with just ANYONE—only with family and close friends—and only if they washed their hands and were up on their shots—and didn’t have a cold—and if their clothes were clean, etc. We had limitations as to whom we would share our son with. But God is not like that—He sent His Son for EVERYONE.
When the angel told the shepherds, “Unto YOU is born this day in Bethlehem a Savior,” he wasn’t just referring to those shepherds. He was referring to you and you and you and you. And that is not just GOOD—it’s GLORIOUS NEWS!
You may be here this morning and think: “If God is even aware that I exist, He probably doesn’t have a very favorable opinion of me. I’ve done too many bad things. I’ve messed up my life too much.” If you think that you are not alone because deep down a lot of people feel like that. But, listen, no matter how insignificant you may think you are—God knows you and you are vitally important to Him. As Jesus said in John’s Gospel, “God so loved THE WORLD” and that includes YOU!
Our Heavenly Father does not limit His love. God was announcing through these angels sent to humble shepherds that Jesus was not going to be the Savior of only the political and social and religious elite. He was to be the Savior of ALL people. He doesn’t give preference to any group or class. He doesn’t discriminate on the basis of intelligence or education or wealth or profession or political power or social standing or good looks—-or any of the other qualities that human beings judge by. No—God’s love is offered indiscriminately to anyone who will repent and believe, anyone who will humble themselves and trust in Jesus as Savior. As I read from Isaiah 66 last week, God says, “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at My word.” I know this may shock you—but when I was in school and we chose teams for some game—I was one of the last chosen—always.
- I wasn’t good looking.
- I wasn’t popular.
- My parents couldn’t afford to keep me up to date when it came to clothing styles—I mean, I wasn’t “cool.”
- I wasn’t particularly athletic.
Sure—I participated in sports—but I was always 2nd or 3rd string on the football team—and when track season came around—I was always in the last heat—with the other slow runners. I mean, I was always a spectator watching the popular kids chosen to do “great things.”
Can any of you relate?
Do you know the feeling of NOT being on the inside—where “important” things are happening?
Well, the “gospel” of Christmas says that in God’s eyes you ARE on the INSIDE. Listen! You may think of yourself as someone who is on the “outside” of things—looking in. You feel kind of “out in the cold” so to speak—as you look in on people who are successful—people who seem to have it together. If so, this part of the Christmas story should be very encouraging GOOD NEWS! I imagine that many nights as the shepherds sat out in those cold, lonely fields, with nothing but dumb animals to keep them company—they looked over at the village of Bethlehem, saw the lights of the homes and heard the faint sound of families—people laughing—and as they looked they wished they could be a part of that. Maybe you’ve felt that way too—felt you were not one of the “beautiful people” not especially wealthy or powerful or influential—not likely to be prom queen or see your name in the paper for some great accomplishments. If you feel that way then I have good news. GREAT news. The BEST NEWS possible. God loves you! He values you more highly than He does the life of His only Son! You may be unimportant in the eyes of most people or you may be very important; you may be a mere “cog in the machine” at your place of employment or the CEO. You may be near Christ—raised in a Christian home—or far from Him—reared in a home or culture where the name of Jesus is never even mentioned. You may own your home; you may rent your home; you may not HAVE a home. None of those things matter for the simple reason that Jesus did not come to be the Savior of only some. He came to be the Savior of ALL mankind.
I don’t want to belabor this point—but many times people tend to localize or “culturalize” religion. They say that Bhuddism or Hinduism is for the Asiatic races; that Islam is for the people of Arabia—and that Judaism is for the Jews. Some people over the years have even embraced the ignorant belief that Christianity—with its Christmas story—is only for WHITE people. But as we at Redland know—people are VERY wrong when they think this way because Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea for EVERYONE. As the angel told the shepherds, their good news that night of nights was “for ALL people.” Christmas is not just for one race or ethnic group but for all—red, yellow, black and white because no matter how different we may appear to be on the outside—we are the same on the inside. All of us have the same inner need for a Savior. As Romans 3:23 says, “ALL [of us] have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” And 1st Timothy 1:15 says that “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners.”
So, looking at the shepherds’ experience tells us that ALL PEOPLE are important to God. He sent His only Son because He loves all of us! Here’s a second thing we can learn from these Shepherds.
(2) The Gospel must be received through a personal belief.
In other words, no one can respond to or accept the Good News of Christmas FOR you. You have to decide what to do with this good news. You have to decide whether or not to respond.
Look at verse 12 where the angel said to the shepherds, “And this shall be a sign unto you; You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” Now skip down to verses 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.”
Okay, put yourself in those shepherds’ sandals for a moment. Review their options as to what to do with that angelic summons.
- They could have DOUBTED what they had been told.
They could have said, “This message can’t be true. In fact, why should we have been told at all? We better just forget about all this.”
- They could have IGNORED it.
They could have any number of excuses that would keep them from checking out the news they had just heard sung. After all, theirs was a 24-7 job!
- They could have DEBATED it.
They could have sat down and analyzed what they should do. Could they afford to leave the sheep? What if something happened while they were gone?
- They could have REJECTED the angels’ message outright.
They could have said, “This is not for us! In fact, this whole thing sounds kind of flaky!” But each of the shepherds chose to BELIEVE! Note the exact wording. They didn’t say, “Let’s go see IF these things are true.” No, they said, “Let’s go see this thing that HAS come to pass.”
They BELIEVED—that was their response! There are a lot of people in this world who know the Christmas Story. They KNOW the basic tenets of Gospel According to Christmas—from the appearance of the angels to when the Wise Men showed up two years later. They’ve heard the Christmas Story again and again and can recite it point by point—even verse by verse. They know every detail.
But guess what? We’re not saved by knowing the details. We’re saved by the one-on-one personal encounter with Christ. We’re saved not by KNOWING ABOUT JESUS—but by KNOWING Jesus. And that salvation comes through personal belief—our choice to put our faith in Jesus.
I can’t help but think of our tour guide in Israel in 2013. His name is Danny Applebaum. Danny was an EXCELLENT guide. I mean, he knew all the details of Jesus’ life and ministry. He even had a well-worn New Testament that he referred to as we went to each site. But Danny didn’t know Jesus. He never ACTED on his knowledge. He never BELIEVED the Gospel that He NEW so well.
Listen friends, it’s not enough to hear about Jesus. It’s not enough to look into the manger at Christmas and say, “Oh, how nice. What a wonderful story. Pass the eggnog.” You see, unless you ACT on the angel’s message—unless you BELIEVE you are lost. You can get all sentimental at Christmas and have a warm fuzzy feeling as you conspire while you sit by the fire—but if you don’t use your God-given free-will and choose to believe, it’s all for naught.
However—if you act on this good news as the shepherds did—if you reach out in faith—you’ll find that Jesus is real! You’ll see that the angels’ message was true—that “Unto YOU has been born a Savior.” If you believe, you’ll meet Jesus Himself just as certainly as the shepherds did!
Here’s one more thing we can learn from these shepherds.
(3) The Gospel according to Christmas is meant to be SHARED.
Look at verses 17 and 18, “When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this Child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” These shepherds realized that GOOD NEWS is not something you keep to yourself—especially the good news of Jesus’ birth. I don’t know if you realize it but the word “Gospel” in Greek is pronounced “euangelion.”
Does that pronunciation sound familiar?
It should because we get another word from it—I’m referring to the word, “evangelical.” Now—I am aware that this word, “evangelical” has become a bad word in today’s culture. I won’t get into why—there are various reasons—but I will say it should not surprise us. I say that because this is the Bible’s teaching. 1st Peter 2:8 says that the Good News of Jesus’ coming can be a “stumbling block of offense to some.”
Well, because it is offensive—many don’t share the gospel—they don’t evangelize. Some even prefer NOT to be known as “evangelicals.” They live sort of “under-cover.” I can’t help but remember a wedding I did in Baltimore. It was in a Methodist Church and part of the requirement for the couple to use that building was that the pastor had to help with the ceremony.
He and I met in his office before the rehearsal to go over things—-and as he and I got to know each other, he suddenly leaned over and whispered—as if he was afraid someone might hear him—“You know Mark, I am an evangelical.” I said, “ME TOO!” And, don’t be too critical of this pastor. Being known as an evangelical can be hard. Our message is offensive to some. But that’s what we are. We are EVANGELICALS. Turn to the person on your right and say, “I’m an evangelical” Now the person on your left.
Listen, if we know Jesus personally—and if we are obedient to His Great Commission command—then we are EVANGELICALS—bearers of good news—the good news that the Savior has come. Our God-given job is to GO AND TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN AND OVER THE HILLS AND EVERYWHERE that Jesus has been born—-born to save us from our sins. It’s our task to give people an opportunity to respond in faith.
Do you remember that Charlie Brown Christmas special I referred to earlier? This week I read that two producers who worked closely with Charlie Brown creator Charles Schultz said it was very hard to convince a network to air their show. All the major networks were hesitant. Finally, one agreed, and they hurriedly got to work writing the script and doing the animation. When the producers saw that Schulz had included that scene we watched earlier with Linus reading the Christmas Story—well they him cautioned him about putting something like that in the special, because they were convinced it wouldn’t go over well. They feared this stumbling block of offense might ruin their show. Charles Schultz faced both of the producers and said, “If not us, then who’s going to do it?” That’s a question we all must answer. If we don’t share the GOSPEL ACCORDING TO CHRISTMAS—who will?
In Romans 10 Paul says, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. But—how can they call on the One they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the One of Whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can anyone preach unless they are sent?”
And then listen to this next part: “As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!’”
I want to show you some pictures of feet. Raise your hands if you think they qualify as being “beautiful.”
The last ones belong to Emma—my four-day-old granddaughter. Well—what is it that makes a foot beautiful? Is it the color, the shape, the age? It’s not the foot itself—it’s the message its owner brings that makes it beautiful. It’s what the owner says—I mean, even little Emma’s feet are not really beautiful. They are scrawny and wrinkled. They can’t hold her weight. The thing that makes them BEAUTIFUL is the message they bring—the message that says, GOD IS GOOD! It’s the message that gives the foot it’s beauty. So if you too can have beautiful feet—if you use them to take the Gospel According to Christmas to others.
This week I came across the story of a Muslim man named Samuel. After watching the Jesus film and listening to Christian radio, on July 15, 2001, Samuel took a monumental step for an Afghan and Muslim—he received Christ as his Lord and Savior. Soon thereafter, as Western aid workers were either arrested or expelled from Kabul, the Taliban came for him.
They told Samuel he was guilty of “working for foreigners,” which had been legal, and threw him in jail. For the next 14 days, they beat Samuel at least once a day with a five-foot steel cable. After the last of these sessions, he fell unconscious in his prison cell. That night, Samuel had a dream. In it, a luminous man wearing bright white clothes appeared. The visitor, whom Samuel would later describe as having “very beautiful feet and shoulder-length hair,” spoke kindly to him. Then he said, “Get up.” In the dream, the visitor led Samuel out of the cell. Going to the front gate, the ex-Muslim met another man—who was wearing bright green (many Muslims associate green with God’s blessing). This man led him out of the prison. Then Samuel awoke, finding his cell door open. “He walked through it to find the front gate of the prison unguarded and open,” a close Western associate says. “He walked out and into the night.”
As Christians, we have the same job that angelic visitor had. It is our task to tell others that Jesus has come—come to free us from our sins. Using our feet for that purpose—to take us to tell others the Gospel According to Christmas—makes those feet beautiful! Turn to the person next to you and ask, “Are your feet ugly?”
Just kidding. Don’t do that.
But the fact is no matter how gnarled our toes—no matter how calloused our heals—our feet are beautiful—when we use them to get us to people who need to hear the GOOD NEWS that Jesus is born.
I’m sure you are all familiar with the tragic story of John Allen Chau—the young man who lost his life trying to share the gospel with the Sentinelese people who live on North Sentinel Island in the Indian Ocean. People have been very critical of his actions—bribing a fisherman to take him there illegally—exposing this people group to diseases, etc. Some even say that Chau’s death shows that international evangelism is a bad thing. For example, a man named Corey Pigg, who created what is called, “The Failed Missionary Podcast” and is critical of short-term missionary programs—said that in light of Chau’s actions, now is, “…the time to look at the inherent racism, colonialism and privilege of missionary work.” He also said, “It takes a lot of arrogance for somebody to blindly intrude on somebody else’s property and think that they need to give them something that they don’t already have.” And—yes, Chau could have been better prepared. He could have worked with experts to figure out how best to get the gospel message to those people. But he’s not the first missionary to die trying to share the Gospel—and I for one love his passion. Chau knew that sharing the gospel is not about colonization it’s about SALVATION. He knows all people need to hear about Jesus. This is why—like so many other Christians down through the years—he gave his life to tell others. Are you ready to do that?
Are you ready to SHARE the GOOD NEWS—the GOSPEL according to Christmas?
Let us pray.