How many times have we found ourselves on the day after Christmas, thinking “What happened? Where did the time go?” or in some way feeling like we “missed it”? The birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is inarguably the turning point of all history. The birth of Jesus Christ—God Himself, taking on human form and limiting Himself to time and space– was a monumental event. Everyone should have been talking about it, but curiously enough when Jesus was born in Bethlehem almost everyone missed it. Tonight, I want to look at the people who encountered the Christ, and those who didn’t and discover what we can learn from them.
The first group I want to look at is the shepherds. We read about them in Luke 2: 8-17 . The shepherds were very dedicated to their work. Most people who work outside the home have a job they go to at the beginning of their work day, then they come home when they’re through. Lk 2:18 says they were “living” in the fields with their sheep to watch their flock and keep them safe from theft or predators; being a first century shepherd was not a 9 to 5 job. I get the picture similar to full time firefighters, who while they are on duty live at the fire station, always alert and ready for action then go home while another group takes an extended shift. Shepherds were also expected to put themselves in harm’s way for the sake of their sheep. Scripture tells us one of the most famous shepherds of the Bible, David, fought and killed both a lion and a bear in defense of his sheep; but Luke 2:15 tells us “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.’” V. 16 says they “hurried” off and found Mary, Joseph, and the baby who was lying in a manger. Did you catch it? You can’t “hurry” driving a flock of sheep. The shepherds had to make the decision to leave their sheep behind because Christ was now their first priority. V. 17 tells us that when they had seen the child they spread the word concerning what had been told them about him. This should put to rest any question of the shepherds taking their sheep with them. Can you imagine these humble shepherds hurrying into Bethlehem canvassing the town with a flock of sheep in tow? Does this mean Scripture excuses being neglectful of our work? No—Colossians 3:23 says “Whatever you do work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men.”—but this was an extraordinary circumstance, the birth of the Son of God– and their encounter with Him called for extreme measures. Our encounters with Jesus will not always be so extreme, but they do require our giving Him the preeminence, the first place in our minds and hearts.
There were some from that first Christmas who did not give the Lord first place. There was Herod, whose first love was power and splendor. He was so consumed with it, he killed his wife, his sons, and most of his family members, not to mention all the Jewish babies he killed, trying to kill Jesus. There was no room in Herod’s heart for anyone to have power besides himself. In addition, there were the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day. Out of everyone, they should have been first in line to welcome the Messiah. Instead, they missed it completely because their “God spot” was already filled with themselves and their own power. The first place in our hearts is a place which should be reserved for God alone, but He is a gentleman and won’t take it by force. Anytime, we allow anything other than God to occupy that priority, it’s idolatry. That should give us pause to think. What is occupying the “God spot” in my heart? How much do I do in my own wisdom and strength, rather than by seeking His?
The second person I want to look at is Simeon. We read about him in v.25-32 of Luke 2. Simeon is described as righteous, devout and anticipating the coming of the Messiah. He knew the prophesies and took God at His word. Simeon wasn’t like some modern academic elites who think of the scriptures as a collection of stories or moral teachings, but as God’s word to us and relevant to our everyday lives. The scriptures said the Messiah would come to save Israel and Simeon was watching for him. V.27 says Simeon was moved by the Holy Spirit to enter the temple courts when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus to the Lord. In 1 Ki. 19:11-13, the Lord revealed Himself to Elijah; not in a powerful wind, an earthquake, or a fire, but a gentle whisper. With 4 young children, we have a pretty busy household. Even so, it would be awfully easy for a powerful wind, a fire, or an earthquake to get my attention, but I’d have to be really listening to hear a gentle whisper. In the same way, in order for Simeon to enter the courts at the right time to encounter the Christ, he had to be listening for or sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s moving. If he wasn’t, he would have missed it.
There were others who were not listening. Many people in Bethlehem were preoccupied with the census and with business at home. They did not hear the Holy Spirit. They did not encounter the Christ. Preoccupation with the busy-ness of life is pretty much a guaranteed way to miss the moving of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
The last group I want to look at is the Magi. Their encounter is found in Matthew 2:1-12, but for tonight’s purposes, let’s just look at v. 1-2. The Magi or wise men were from the east, probably Persia. Why would these Gentiles from Persia be concerned with the “king of the Jews”? Over 500 years earlier, Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were among the Jews taken into captivity by Nebuchadnezzar. The first several chapters of the book of Daniel give an account of how God worked through the lives of these men to make Himself known in Babylonia. Daniel was placed in charge of all the wise men of Babylonia by King Nebuchadnezzar and was appointed one of the top 3 officials of Persia when King Darius took the land from Nebuchadnezzar’s son. It is quite likely that in his position of authority, Daniel would have shared his knowledge of God and the scriptures with the wise men of that time. Later, Darius’ son, Xerxes married a young Jewess names Esther and God continued to work through her and her cousin Mordecai who He placed in positions of power within the government to influence the Persian people.
When the Magi of Matthew 2 saw the appearance of the special star, they were able to understand its spiritual significance because they had studied the scriptures and recognized the prophesy of Numbers 24:17, “I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” The Magi recognized the scripture and their first response was to worship Him. It took considerable effort on their part, the journey was many months, and they didn’t find the Christ until he is described as a “child” in a “house”, not a baby in a manger. Diligent study of the scriptures and authentic worship always requires effort and that is still true today. I don’t know about you, but it’s much easier for me to get up and go about my morning routine than it is to get up an hour (or even a ½ hour) earlier to spend time studying the Bible and praying. At church it’s much easier to sing hymns and choruses I’ve memorized than it is to consciously focus my attention on Christ and worship, especially when I have to correct my children in the pew. Encountering the Christ this Advent season, will require conscious effort on our part.
I don’t have all the answers and I need to be reminded of these things as much as anyone here, but if I could sum all this up, these would be my tips for encountering the Christ this Advent season.
1. Search your heart. Is anything sitting on the throne in your life but God himself? Make Jesus your first priority and submit yourself to Him.
2. Spend time in diligent study of the word. The Christmas account is so familiar, it’s easy to gloss over. Ask God to reveal himself to you in a fresh way this year.
3. Slow down. See the various events and activities which come up around Christmas as opportunities, not obligations. Make time to be quiet before the Lord, even if you have to say “no” to worthwhile activities in order to listen for the Holy Spirit.