This message was presented on December 22, 2013 as a part of the Advent series. May you experience the Joy of His Presence!
The middle class has always been the strength of the United States, but current trends are destroying it to create “elites” and the poor, who are dependent on these “elites.” That is just the way things were in the Roman Empire in Jesus’ day. The Roman Republic, begun in B.C. 508, became the Roman Empire around B.C. 27 with the rise of the Caesars as the Roman Empire. The wealthy elite of that day shared gifts of gold jewelry and trinkets. It was the easiest way to express endearment and pass wealth onto others. It was fitting for kings and elites in that day. Frankincense and myrrh were also gifts. They were fragrant gum resins extracted from trees in South Arabia and Ethiopia used to make fine perfumes and anointing oils in the Middle East.
The oils restored moisture after bathing and protected the skin from the dangerous Middle Eastern sun. The Egyptians used hundreds of pounds for funeral preparation. When King Tut(ankhamen)’s tomb was opened 3000 years after his death, the diggers could smell frankincense in the air. The Greeks used the resin to honor their heroes, and soldiers used it to cure infections and bruises. The Chinese traded frankincense with Africa to improve respiratory health, and it was used in religious rituals to symbolize the sweetness of the sacrificial offering and incense that carried prayer to God.
Myrrh was more rare. Arab men drank it mixed with fragrant liquids to cure baldness. India elites used it to cure obesity and prolong life. The Chinese mixed it with breast milk to cure diaper rash. These fragrant gifts would have cost $500.00 per pound for frankincense and $4000.00 per pound for myrrh. Yes, there were the elites and there were the poor.
The poor, deprived people had nothing to give, so they gave an extra bread crust or spoon of wheat germ in their meal. They were happy with an extra morsel for their hunger. There were the “haves” and the “have nots.” There were the well off and the deprived.
Our passage is going to deal with the deprived, because that is where most of us fit in life, compared to the few elites who can do what they want. The deprived don’t have what NFL stars have, or rock stars, or congressmen. What do the deprived have?
Using an illustration from LEGOS, the elite have all their connections filled with things of the world. The deprived have many open slots, but God’s presence can multiply the number of connections available to you. What do the deprived have this Christmas? They have connection points for the joy of His presence.
1) The deprived have rejection and helpless sheep Luke 2:8-12
While the elite were secure in their palaces, and while the deprived were moving toward their home of registry, God set the stage for who the real privileged were. Joseph, who was a deprived carpenter, secured a donkey for his betrothed and very pregnant Mary. He walked the 80 miles, from Nazareth to Bethlehem, in about a week. Joseph could not bribe anyone for a room because there were no rooms, so they settled for a stable. But they were not the only deprived ones.
8 Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. (Luke 2:8)
Shepherds were the lowest class of the deprived ones. They were despised, because, well, there has to be someone to despise! The testimony of shepherds was not trusted in Jewish courts. But they didn’t care, for these shepherds were watching sheep on the very hills David watched his sheep. They may have cared for the lambs that would be purchased and sacrificed for the coming Passover. They had no uniform, but their ragged robes. They had no regular meals, but plants and rodents they could scrounge. They had no weapons, but a staff. They had no bed, but the grass on the hills. They had no roof over their heads, but the black expanse. They had no light, but the distant stars and smoldering campfire. They were deprived.
9 And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. (Luke 2:9)
The text records literally, “They feared a great fear.” Shepherds were not afraid of many things. Dad exhorted them, “Get over it,” (whatever the fearful thing was). They had no choice. But, this WAS startling! The Pax Romana began about B.C 27, which meant there were no big wars. But the absence of war does not mean the presence of peace! Taxes were high, unemployment was dealt with by slavery, morals were spiraling down, and the military state was in control. Roman law, Greek philosophy, and even Jewish religion could not meet the needs of men’s hearts. They were afraid.
10 Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. 11 “For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 “And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)
Notice the Angel said, “This birth is ‘to you.’” Three times the angel calls their attention to the fact that the message is “to them.” The elites have their connections full of the world and all the presents that would come from the world. The deprived have empty connections for God to connect His presence. The shepherds may have thought they were only watching sheep, but they have room for God to connect His presence. God has you in mind. Mary sang, “He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty.” (Luke 1:53) So God puts the shepherds on a treasure hunt. What do the deprived have this Christmas? They may have rejection and helpless sheep, but the deprived have pursued His presence.
2) The deprived have pursued His presence Luke 2:13-16
What caused them to pursue His presence?
13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 14 “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (Luke 2:13-14)
There were no street lights or city lights, just darkness, a black expanse and a fire was burning in their circle. All of a sudden, the night sky lit up and their mouths dropped, their tongues were silent, and their eyes were like dish plates. Imagine your greatest spectacle and multiply it by 100. This army of singing soldier angels lit up the sky and praised God with this hallelujah chorus. “Peace and good will from God toward all men,” the angels shouted for joy.
This was like a Black Friday rush.
15 So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. (Luke 2:15-16)
They ran and quickly found His humble presence, and the greatest present they could have received. They were in the presence of the King. Recently, there were hundreds who lined up to see Mandela’s body. More recently, there were thousands who waited to see Pope Francis. Can you imagine how many would pursue the presence of Jesus? What do the deprived have? They have pursued His presence! Ahh! They will have the joy of His presence.
3) The deprived have the joy of His presence Luke 2:17-20
Notice what they did!
17 Now when they had seen Him, they made widelyknown the saying which was told them concerning this Child. (Luke 2:17)
They made widely known – neighbors, shopkeepers, innkeeper, they made known His presence and the message of the angels. They were unstoppable!
18 And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. (Luke 2:18)
There was a unanimous response – marvel! Wondered! Ahh, Ohh, Woww! The Law would not trust them, but the people believed their testimony.
19 But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. (Luke 2:19)
Mary pondered them, “My baby!?!”
20 Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them. (Luke 2:20)
They went back to work with a renewed purpose of glorifying God!
His presence, not my presents, brings the greatest joy!
Do you have it? Have you accepted Jesus as your Savior?
God made this world and gave you a free will. Adam and Eve chose for you in the Garden of Eden, but if you had been in their place, you would have done exactly what they did. We show it by choosing to sin instead of humbly submitting to God. He provides what we need, but we reject Him and the presence of sin in our lives wreaks havoc all through our culture, environment and causes tremendous suffering. Paul said, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Rom. 3:23) And sin caused separation from God, “For the wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23) The reason is because God is holy. He made us just like He made the universe. The universe is so big, but God is bigger. He has the right for His creatures to obey Him. The animals do. They migrate as He desires. But people have a choice and it is bent on disobedience. That’s why we must receive the gift God provides, “But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name.” (John 1:12 NKJ) Will you receive Jesus today?
His presence, not my presents, brings the greatest joy!
- Rejoice in being deprived from the world. Life is a test. The world will never satisfy. But, what does a child say at the last gift? “Is there anything else?” You can never acquire enough, have a big enough thing, or have enough friends on facebook to satisfy your desires. But, if you are deprived, you will have room for God to connect you to His presence. His presence will be a river that springs out from your heart, a cupboard full of your favorite food, a relationship that is stable, solid, steady and secure. Are you deprived, despised, hungry?
9 For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness. (Ps. 107:9)
He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. (Luke 1:53 NKJ)
21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. (Luke 6:21 NKJ)
There is only one thing that matters – Jesus. Is He real to you? If God took everything away, would you be satisfied? If God took away all your televisions, your car that runs well, your appliances that work well and gave you lemons. Would you have a renewed purpose to glorify God?
- Know His presence to reap His joy and blessing. David wrote, “You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy.” (Ps. 16:11) This is not academic. This is not another term paper written with an A on it. This is not another book on the shelf. This is a transforming experience that over shadows everything you are and do in life! It takes that man you live with, who keeps vacillating and doesn’t spiritually lead your family and you say, “I’ve got Jesus’ presence. I have all I need. I can continue to submit to where he leads with joy.” Or, it takes that relationship where the person keeps expecting you to act a certain way, like your boss, and while you are learning, improving and doing your best, you have the joy of His presence that overshadows what you see in your boss? Or, what about that relationship you have in your family, or even at church, because they expect something from you and you realize, I can’t provide it for them. But, you have Jesus’ presence and you humbly agree to help as they are willing to humble themselves or you let them go in hope that they will come back. Jesus’ presence becomes your confidence to do the right thing, even when it is not enough to please others.
- The deprived, who are in Jesus, will never lack joy! Joy is that Ahh, Ohh, Woww of life. God is in control, I get to be a part of His family and I can be in His will. I choose joy, because He is present. Do you realize that would melt every wall between people? It would mend every heart in marriage. It would make every child humbly listen and obey his parents. It would rally every church member to care for one another and consider others more important than self. People say, “Who messed this up? How come people don’t do this? Why can’t someone talk to me, visit me, come for me?” Some people are full of blame, full of themselves, and not full of Jesus. Go back to the relationship issue and how His presence overcomes. What is your struggle today? Put that on one hand. Do you have Jesus? Put that on the other hand. Which is more real? How does Jesus become real? Jesus said, “Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” (Luke 18:17) The kingdom is used as a metaphor for the King. When you are in the kingdom, you have the presence of the King. The King is real protection, provision, purpose. When His presence is more real, you may or may not have a smile on your face, but you will take His joy to others. With whom have you struggled with in the last year, or month, or week? To whom do you need to say, “Let’s start fresh. I want joy in our relationship.” How can you bring joy to that person today, this week? What could be more real from this message?
Message Based Discussion Questions
1) Who are some of the more important people you have been with?
2) What kind of animal does a shepherd watch over? ____________________ Read Psalm 23 and describe the purpose of the shepherd. Why are those characteristics important to the believer in Jesus?
3) Did God take the message of Jesus birth to the elites or the deprived? _______________ Look at 1 Corinthians 1:26-29 and describe what category God puts His people in. Is that a put down or a reality statement? How so?
4) What did the shepherds of Luke 2:8-20 do after they saw Jesus? ______________ Consider yourself one of the shepherds. How would that experience have changed your life? What kinds of things do you suppose changed in their lives mentally, socially and spiritually?
Making application from the Message:
5) How do you know when you have experienced the presence of the Lord? What does that look like? Can you be financially poor and not be hungry?
6) What kinds of things can you do in order to help another person experience the presence of the Lord?
7) How does your life relate to the shepherds after they saw Jesus? How is it similar or how is it different?