The Cast of Advent: December 24 – All those the shepherds told

And [the shepherds] went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, 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. (Luke 2:16-18)

They came, they saw and then they talked about it. The shepherds had quite a story to tell. Their shift that night had included angels, an announcement, and a baby lying in a manger.

Who did they tell? I’ll bet they talked about this over a drink with their buddies after their shift. Or whatever that looked like 2,000 years ago.

I’ll bet most days and nights as a shepherd were uneventful. Not many stories to tell. An occasional wolf to shoo off or a stray to recover. Shooting stars in the sky.

How many believed their story? It’s out there, for sure. The audience may have “wondered,” but they may have wondered whether it was true or whether the shepherds were simply spinning a tale or had started drinking before their shift ended.

At the beginning of the gospel, Luke tells us that his account is based eyewitness testimony (Luke 1:2). Do you think he sought and found those shepherds who recalled what they had seen years ago? If so, I’ll bet their story was just as compelling as the first time they told it. it’s still compelling when we hear the story!

Don’t forget: it’s just as compelling when you tell the story, too!

Thank you, Lord, for all who told the story and continue to tell the story of the baby lying in a manger. Amen.

The Cast of Advent: December 23 – a multitude of the heavenly host

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!” (Luke 2:13-14)

What a sight and what a sound that must have been! Though many think of the heavenly host as a musical ensemble, they are actually the angel armies of God. This is the same group who was there at creation, who Jacob saw ascending to and descending from heaven, who surrounded the enemy armies at Samaria. They are the same forces Jesus could have summoned to fight for him in Gethsemane.

Here, after the shepherds have heard the angelic announcement of the birth of the Savior, they do what angels do. They praise God. They proclaim peace. They announce that God is not angry but pleased with his people because of Christ who has reconciled us with him.

One angel would be enough to make my day. A multitude? That would be overwhelming! I guess I’ll be overwhelmed one day when I see them in heaven, too many to be counted.

I think it’s interesting that wherever our Lord shows up, he’s got an entourage of angels with him. Sometimes you see them. Sometimes you don’t.

I’ll never get to be an angel. But I can praise him, too.

Thank you, Lord, for all those who praised you then and praise you now. Amen.

The Cast of Advent: December 22 – the angel who appeared to the shepherds

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 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.” (Luke 2:8-12)

What a great assignment! As a messenger from the Lord and a ministering spirit to people, this angel got to make the announcement of all time. The savior has been born! The Christ has come! This is a unique moment in the history of the world and the salvation plans of God. Never before and never again would such news be the headline of the day.

Sometimes only a few people show up for church. I’ve done funerals for less than six people. Before we stopped gathering for New Years Eve worship, we only had about a dozen. I even showed up at church on Sunday morning as a hurricane was approaching and was the only one there. When you have the best news of all, the gospel, you always hope a few more people will be there to hear it.

This night, it was just some shepherds who found themselves in the presence of an angel bathed in the glory of the Lord. Angel usually show up and speak to individuals, like Mary and Joseph. It’s very personal. Yet, on this occasion, it was “good news of great joy for all the people.” It’s an announcement meant for a much wider audience.

Like you and I. Do you ever get tired of reading or hearing those words? Not me. And when I do, I sense the glory of the Lord surrounding me, too. That’s the power of God’s Word. It brings you into his presence, touches your heart, and makes you feel like he’s talking to just you.

Thank you, Lord, for such great news – for me and everyone else, too! Amen.

The Cast of Advent: December 21 – the shepherds

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In the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 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” (Luke 2:8-12).

When the angels went away from them into heaven, 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. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child (Luke 2:15-16).

Some unnamed shepherds play a unique supporting role in the advent of our Lord. They are the only ones who get to hear the announcement of the angel and the praises of a multitude of the heavenly host. They are also the only visitors to and witnesses of the infant Jesus in the manger. They are the first to testify to this good news, too. They are never mentioned again in the New Testament, but are cast and costumed in every Christmas pageant I’ve ever seen. They don’t need a line. We all know why they are there!

There are many other shepherds in the bible. Abraham, Jacob, Moses, David, and Amos were all shepherds. Jesus would later call himself the good shepherd, the one God promised to send to care for his people. Pastors are charged with “shepherding” the flock under their care. It is an occupation that weaves its way throughout the pages of scripture.

I am certain others got to see the infant Jesus in the days that followed. If Joseph’s ancestral home was Bethlehem, he must have run into family while he was there to register. Without realizing it, they were looking on the heir to the throne of Israel, the Messiah, the Son of Man, and the Word become flesh. But the shepherds knew. They knew the gravity of that moment.

Never underestimate the value of simply hearing the good news of the Gospel, which is the good news of great joy of Christmas. The word that powerfully changes hearts and lives gives you a part in the story, too! You get to make this good news known.

Thank you, Lord, for casting me in this amazing story. Amen.

The Cast of Advent: December 20 – Quirinius

“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria” (Luke 2:1-2).

Luke mentions Quirinius in his gospel to establish a time stamp for Jesus’ birth. Some historical records do not sync with Luke’s account, but that’s a matter for historians to figure out. Quirinius was of the Roman ruling class, racked up a few military successes and secured an appointment as governor of Syria at a time when the Roman empire was powerful and influential. The fact that Luke mentions him implies name recognition, at least among those who would read his gospel.

Jesus was born in a world of empires and emperors, governments and governors, military campaigns and political appointments. In this context the creator of the universe, the author of life and the savior of all isn’t even a blip on the radar. The big dogs didn’t know, didn’t care and weren’t even in the picture when Jesus began his public ministry.

But much later, in the seventh century, someone decided that Jesus’ birth would be a time stamp to keep track of time and history. That’s when AD, anno domini, “year of our Lord,” was used to measure the passing of years. Whether you acknowledge who Jesus is or not, you acknowledge his presence in this world each time you simply write out the year.

God knows the timeline of each of our lives. He knew us before we were born, heard our first cry, and knows the number of our days. Each moment of our days is significant to him.

Thank you, Lord, for each one of my days, here in this world and with you in eternity. Amen.

The Cast of Advent: December 19 – Caesar Augustus

We finally get to Luke chapter 2 in our cast of Advent characters. You knew we would eventually get to Caesar Augustus, because “in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered” (Luke 2:1).

If you look up Caesar Augustus, you’ll find plenty of history written about him as the first Roman emperor who reigned from 27 BC to AD 14. In his position of power, he had no clue that his decreed tax census would be part of the advent of Christ and Luke’s story of Jesus’ birth. As long as he could extract money from outlying areas of the empire like Palestine, Rome would benefit, and he would continue to be a popular and powerful ruler.

God typically used powerful rulers to accomplish his purposes. He used Pharaoh to take care of Jacob’s family and the nation of Israel for hundreds of years. He used the kings of Assyria, Babylon and Persia to discipline and shape the lives of the rebellious and unfaithful nations of Israel and Judah. He used the Greek’s language to inspire the words of the New Testament. Now he uses the Roman emperor so the Christ would be born in Bethlehem.

Whether you have a choice in the matter, whether you voted for them or not, whether or not you agree with their policies, all governing authority is from God (Romans 13:1). That can be a hard pill to swallow. Yet God casts them in the advent of Christ, so that “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so the we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4,5).

Thank you, Lord, for all who rule over your people. Amen.

The Cast of Advent: December 18 – Abraham

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Once Zechariah got his voice back, filled with the Holy Spirit, he reminded everyone of “[God’s] holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days” (Luke 1:72-75). 

How could you leave Abraham out of the cast of Advent? It all started with him. He was the father of that great nation through whom all the families of the earth would be blessed. The plot of the advent of Christ begins with Abraham. 

Every parent knows you have to be careful what you tell your children. They will remember. They will remember everything you said you would do for them and with them. You can’t reason with them. They will persist, “But you promised!” Yes, God made a promise. He made a promise to Abraham. No matter how stubborn, impossible and unfaithful his people were, the one thing that remained the same was God’s promise. 

How many of our prayers include the phrase, “But you promised?” That’s a good petition to include. It means you believe God is faithful. You believe God will do what he says. It means you trust him. 

We live in a world where we must doubt most of the emails, messenger and phone calls that promise us something. Most of them are a lie, a scheme, a scam to take advantage of us. God steps into our world with something different. He is someone we can trust. He is someone who does what he promises. The ultimate example is Jesus, who said he would be killed and then come back to life. He even specified the third day. The resurrection means we can trust his word!

It fills my heart with joy to know I can trust him. How about you?

Thank you, Lord, for being the one I can trust. Amen. 

The Cast of Advent: December 17 – God’s holy prophets

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When John was born and his father Zechariah could speak again, he “was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied, saying, ‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old’” (Luke 1:67-70). 

The Old Testament prophets of God played a dynamic role in the advent of Christ. For more than a thousand years they had called God’s people to repentance and predicted the coming the of Lord himself to shepherd, rule and save his people. Their vivid images of God’s judgment was always accompanied by a promise of restoration. Living under Roman rule, Zechariah knew well the judgments an unfaithful people brought on themselves. I wonder if he ever imagined he would witness the hoped for salvation?

Those “holy prophets” were a wild bunch. Elisha called out the she-bears to teach some mocking youths a lesson (2 Kings 2:23-24). Isaiah preached naked for three years (Isaiah 20:2-3). Hosea married a prostitute to illustrate his message (Hosea 1:2). Jonah’s prayer closet was the inside of a great fish. Daniel’s was a lion’s den. 

Woven through their messages, though, are images of the Christ, God’s “anointed one,” who would one day save and rule the people with righteousness and justice, with mercy and compassion, with humility and sacrifice, and with power and glory. Their images help us to identify Immanuel, “God with us,” when the babies start coming for Mary and Elizabeth. 

I still like to listen to the prophets. Every Sunday School kid loves the experiences of Jonah and Daniel. The kid in me loves to hear about them, too. 

Thank you, Lord, for the voice of the prophets who spoke of your advent. Amen. 

The Cast of Advent: December 16 – Jesus

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In a dream the angel spoke to Joseph about both Mary and her son. “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21).

It’s hard to know which devotional slot to give Jesus since the whole story is about him. This seems like a good moment, since this is the first time his name is mentioned.

The name Jesus means “Savior.” It is the same as the Old Testament name Joshua which is derived from a Hebrew word meaning “to deliver or rescue.” It is a name which describes exactly what he will do: “save his people from their sins.”

Many names originated with occupations. “Smith” was the blacksmith who worked iron. “Cooper” made the barrels. “Carpenter” worked with wood. You call the people in your community with a word that described their work: Baker, Brewer, Potter, Fisher, Weaver, and Judge would be just a few good examples.

But how in the world can you save someone from their sins? How can you make it so that a person doesn’t have to suffer the consequences for their actions? I suppose you could suffer those consequences for them, sparing them from that experience. Which is exactly what Jesus does for each and every sin of every person.

For much of his life, I’m sure no one had a clue how Jesus would save his people from their sins. It wasn’t until much later, after the resurrection, that Jesus could give them that understanding. Until then, they would just have to take his name and his occupation by faith.

Thank you, Lord, for saving me from my sins. Amen.