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The Proclamation of the Gift (Luke 2:7-20) – Mark Ottaway

The Proclamation of the Gift

Luke 2:7-20


Turn to Luke 1. Last Sunday we looked at the promise of the Gift. This morning I wish to teach on the proclamation of the Gift, the proclamation by the angels to the shepherds. And this of course falls on the heels of Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem, where Mary gives birth to the Child, where there is no fanfare, no one likely had any idea of the significance of this Child other than Mary and Joseph. Mary had already been told that she would bear a Son.

“And the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name Him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David, and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and there will be no end of His kingdom.’”

Luke 1:30-33 (LSB)



So, Mary and Joseph were aware to some extent of the wonder of this event, likely wondering why the Lord would have chosen them for such a mission. Why would God have called us? So, here Mary and Joseph have their baby. There is no opportunity for Mary and Joseph to choose a name, for the angel has already given them the name, Jesus. Then of course the Child is delivered.

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the guest room.”

Luke 2:7 (LSB)


So, the preliminary information is given to Mary and Joseph about the Child and the Child is delivered with no fanfare and Mary and Joseph have their baby alone. And there is nothing out of the ordinary about the birth. The assumption of the story is that Mary had her baby in the same way all mothers have their babies. No texts, no emails, no Facebook, for Joseph is unable to share this news with anyone. Possibly there may have been some strangers they had met on the way who may have rejoiced with Mary and Joseph when their little Child was born. You know I remember the good old days when our guys were born, one of the most exciting things was calling our Mom’s and Dad’s and calling friends and family, and saying, it’s another boy.


So, Mary and Joseph somewhere in Bethlehem, outside, possibly in a cave or stable, and they place the little baby in a feeding trough, surrounded by animals. And anyone who has animals knows that where there are animals, there are smells, as this event would have come with quite the aroma of smells. Paul wrote:

“Have this way of thinking in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although existing in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a slave, by being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself.”

Philippians 2:5-8a (LSB)


Meanwhile, just outside of Bethlehem there were shepherds. The traditional site of the shepherds is about two miles outside of the town. And these shepherds are unaware of the event which has just taken place only a forty-minute walk away. It is said that shepherds would normally allow their flocks to be out in the open pasture during the day, and then at night, they would be put into sheepfolds where they would take turns “keeping watch over their flocks by night.” Sitting out in the still of the night, hearing all the night sounds you might hear. One of the things about camping when you are sleeping out in the woods is that you can hear everything so clearly. It is so great to be able to lay in a tent and hear the waves from the lake, or just the crickets, or maybe the odd owl. I remember a few years ago, Anne and I were camping at the Pinery and in the quiet of the night, there was a Whippoorwill who was just outside our tent. And when things are so quiet, the sound of a Whippoorwill is quite loud. If you have never heard a Whippoorwill, it is a very fast repeated call, “Whippoorwill, whippoorwill, whippoorwill!” And in the quiet of the night, we both jumped up, as the sound was so clear.


Well, for these shepherds, some who were out in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night. Maybe some of them talking, or maybe some even dozing off. Everything is quiet, all they might hear are the crickets or the odd night bird. And then eventually there is no sound. The sheep are quiet in the pitch of black. When suddenly as the songwriter pens, “And the heavens exploded, with music everywhere.
And the angels spilled over heaven’s edge and filled the air.”


“And an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people. For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’  And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.’”

Luke 2:9-14 (LSB)


First, the angel appears and tells the shepherds to not fear. He makes the announcement of the Child and gives slight details of the birth to help the shepherds find the baby. And as if the angels could not contain themselves any longer. Luke says that suddenly, there was with the multitude a heavenly host. That’s quite the text message, that’s quite the phone call from the hospital. And though Joseph the father was not able to call anyone, the Father, God Himself, makes the baby announcement. Well, can you imagine the angel who appears, then the glory of the Lord, then the heavenly host praising God in the heavens? I am sure the shepherds received a taste of a heavenly concert out in the countryside. I wonder how long it lasted. It would seem that it would have had some duration as if God is going to display His heavenly glory in the skies, He must have allowed the shepherds to be amazed at the wonder, and to give them the time to soak in the understanding of the reality of it. Now the message which is given, Luke describes this as “good news.” This “good news” good news demands:


  1. A Wonderful Saviour


This announcement to these shepherds is that the One who has come is a Saviour, for the shepherds are told in verse 11, a Saviour is born. Even back in the days of Job, likely one of the oldest books in the Old Testament, Job says that he knew his Redeemer lives, as there was always a sense that someday for Israel, there would come a Saviour. Now this salvation that was to come to Israel, and to all mankind, was not an immediate deliverance from their situation, as it soon became apparent that Christ was not going to deliver them from Roman rule and set up His kingdom. That is still future. And even Christ submitted Himself to Rome, as He eventually goes to the cross. So, this salvation was of a different kind, not a physical salvation, though it will be someday, but a spiritual salvation. The world needed a Saviour, not because of the smell of animals, or even because of the poor conditions in Israel at the time. Or that man needed a better life, or an improvement in their marriages, or getting a better job, or a nicer house, or that we would have good self-esteem.


And we need to be careful of that, that somehow coming to Christ improves the conditions of my life because that is not necessarily true. Yes, coming to Christ should make me a better spouse, a better Dad, a more committed worker, and give much greater discipline in my life. But remember this Saviour who came (vs 10) is for all people. As there are many people who are extremely disciplined, good husbands, good wives, good Moms and Dads, yet they are not Christians. So, to give a message that Christ came to improve certain areas of my life, could actually be untrue for many. For some people are very well off and have no desire to be any different. Some people are hard workers with smaller incomes, yet are quite content and happily married whether they are Christians or not. Some poor fella in a third-world country may be working sixty to seventy hours a week, has 4 children and a loving wife, and has no ambitions of anything you and I might desire, yet he has not even heard of Christ.


So, let’s not make Christianity or what the angels describe here as the good news, let’s not make it into something it is not. You might be sitting here this morning and have an appreciation for Christianity, but you know yourself that you are not a Christian, and have no desire to be a Christian. Maybe you have a good business and a good home, and you are quite content. For let’s remember that the good news is to all people: to all the poor and all the wealthy; the disciplined (maybe the athlete) and the undisciplined (maybe the one who has eaten too many Christmas treats already); those with great families and those with not-so-great families; and those who may be trapped by addictions and those who are not. Because the good news which is for all men and women. Is that there has been born for you, a Saviour. Why? Because all have sinned a fallen short of the glory of God. Because every man and woman, rich or poor, disciplined or undisciplined, good family or not, alcoholic or clean living; needs salvation from sin and guilt, because all men and women are sinners, no matter what condition someone might be in. This is why the world needs a Saviour, and this is why it is good news for all people, a wonderful Saviour. Secondly, this good news demands:


  1. A Proper Response  


“And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest.’”

Luke 2:13-14a (LSB)


A key responsibility of this heavenly host is to bring glory to God, as God demands to be worshipped and glorified.


  1. May we learn from these angels


We cannot underestimate the greatness, and the power of these angels. Yet this is exactly what sinless perfection (which is what these angels possess) does, it brings glory to God. See, when our lives fail to bring glory to God, it is revealing our sin, for perfection brings God glory. But notice what else perfect angels do, they take the awe that these shepherds may have had for them, and they deflect it to God. In other words, don’t look at us, don’t wonder at us, because we are glorying God. The sin of Satan when he first rebelled against God, was that he desired glory for himself. This too was the sin of those heavenly beings, demons who would eventually follow Satan. Yet this angelic host brings to us a perfect example, and therefore we need to learn from them. Secondly, I want to acknowledge something the shepherds do when they receive this news from the angels.

“And it happened that when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another, ‘Let us go to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.’”

Luke 2:15 (LSB)


  1. May we learn from these shepherds


The first time I went to a Chicago Blackhawk game was in Toronto in 1975. I was with my older brother (and we lost to the Leafs – how embarrassing!). But after the game, we got into the Blackhawk dressing room (couldn’t now, but we got a pile of autographs). Obviously, I was somewhat enamoured by these athletes. And also I have been to a few Christian concerts over the years. I specifically remember being at one with my sons a number of years ago and after the concert, we went in to see the band members. It was all we could talk about on the way home.


And you know I enjoy John MacArthur. I was at Moody (‘2007) the first time I heard him in person. When Anne and I stepped down from youth ministry, they sent us to Chicago to the annual Founder’s Week at Moody. And there were great speakers there all week. I mentioned Haddon Robinson last week. And on the Thursday night, it was John MacArthur. Anne and I were staying at a hotel. We pulled up in a salty van with all these limos around. I was doing a devotion in the foyer and a couple asked if we were at Founder’s Week as he saw my Bible. They had just arrived, flying in from Kansas City. I told him tonight would be packed because of John MacArthur, so they needed to get there early. The event started at 7pm, and I told you before I can get a little antsy when I need to get somewhere I am excited about. So, I had Anne there at 5:45 after walking 8 blocks in freezing cold weather. The doors were still closed. At 6pm they opened the doors and we sat in the sixth row, as the first 5 rows were roped off for VIPs. It was soon packed, and just a few minutes before it started this couple sat down in the row in front of us and said to me, “You were right, it is full.” I think the VIP section may have been accountable for the eleven million offering given at the Founder’s week. But what did I do after the evening? I stood in line to get Mr. MacArthur’s autograph (here it is). No matter what you say, I know you guys are jealous!


But I notice something remarkable about these shepherds. As there seems to be no thought to hang around to see if there might be another light show, so they could tell their families, or to get a second confirmation of what they were supposed to do. No, they hear the news, and then they immediately seek out Christ, not enamoured with the messengers, not these angels, not with the Christian music group, not the preacher, but Christ. Do you notice that? God through the angels told them to go and they went. The wise men saw the star and they went. Joseph was told that the seed inside of Mary was from the Holy Spirit and he believed God and he traveled. When God told Mary and Joseph to later go to Egypt they go. I was thinking that a theme of these Christmas stories are three 3 unplanned journeys: of Mary and Joseph, the wise men, and the shepherds, who chose to go. If we take every story in the Word of God, thinking of many of the main characters, their victory or defeat from God’s view was their willingness or unwillingness to respond to God’s call on their lives.


Have you ever noticed that most who serve in ministry as retired folks were actively serving the Lord long before they retired? As we might be tempted to say, Lord when all these things line up, when I start having more time off, when life settles down, I will then serve the Lord. You know the Bible never gives that option, as the Lord always calls us to go now, worship Him and serve Him now. For the present is always the urgent understanding of the Scriptures, the present is always the time of salvation, the present is always the time to worship, praise, and to be obedient, as God wants praise from us now. Think of young men who served God when they were young and very busy: Jim Elliot – died at age 29; Eric Liddell – died at age 43; and Dietrich Bonhoeffer – died at age 39. My unwillingness to minister when God says to go, or serve or speak, really reveals an unwillingness to place myself, my comfort, my life under the glory of God. The good news demands such a wonderful Saviour, the good news demands a proper response, and thirdly, the good news demands:


  1. A Perfect Peace


Verse 14, “And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” This is likely the most misunderstood portion of the passage, as admittedly when we look at a Christmas card with the shepherds and the wise men at the manger, and the star. And then in the background is sometimes the tail end of the angelic display, and we see the starlit night and the freshly fallen white snow. Or we go to the mall and we see the beautiful wreaths and lights, and we sort of go, “Ahh! Isn’t that nice? That is peace.” But this event in many ways does not really bring peace. Mary is likely exhausted, as they likely do not know their next move, as God must warn them to escape to Egypt. Lord, this is great serving You! And the Gospel writers waste no time in revealing that Christ as He grows is not honoured in His hometown. And shortly into ministry Christ is tempted by Satan, and John the Baptist is beheaded. And those possessed by demons oppose Jesus. At times many try to kill Him, yet He escapes through the crowds. Jesus gets told that His father is Beelzebub. And though a few follow Him, many fall away, and most oppose Him from the start. The teachers of the Law and Pharisees try to trip Him up in everything which He says. And then the cross, the lies, lashings, beatings, crown of thorns, nails, agony, thirst, hunger; and even abandonment by those who would be considered His friends.


Peace? Not really. Certainly not what is depicted at Christmas in our culture, for the peace the angels were speaking. The peace which the angels cannot keep themselves from proclaiming is the peace that occurs because of a transformed relationship between God and man. Remember the angels said, “and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” There is only one kind of person who can be pleasing to God, and that is the person of faith. And this is not something that we just sort of pick ourselves up, and learn to keep Christmas like Scrooge, but that we come before Christ in humbleness and admitting our sin, and receive Him by faith. This is peace. This is Christmas peace, that the Saviour came to die on a cross, to offer forgiveness to all that would place their faith in Him.


Verse 14 is a difficult verse to translate:

“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”

Luke 2:14 (LSB)


Those of us who grew up with the King James know the words “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will towards men.” Yet if you just read the Greek, it would say, peace upon men of His good pleasure or of His good will. The emphasis is on God acting. For it is not men who have earned this, it is on men and women on whom He has chosen to give it. Peace upon men of His [God’s] good pleasure.


The prophet Isaiah also spoke about a perfect peace, “The steadfast of mind You [God] will keep in perfect peace” (Isaiah 26:3). The steadfast[ness] of [your] mind, [God] will keep in perfect peace. Ultimately this is where all our struggles occur isn’t it? In the mind. They do not always begin there, but they end there. In relationships, anxieties, challenges. We can have financial challenges and ultimately, they become a burden to us in our minds, our thinking. Even physical pain, ultimately creates a hopelessness or an anxiety or depression in our minds. Why? Why do all things that defeat us, challenge us, discourage us end in the mind? Sin. It is sin which ultimately defeats and torments our minds. Paul talks about his battle with sin in Romans 7:23, “… but I see a different law in my members, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a captive to the law of sin.”


I dare say that hell will be a battleground of the mind. Where the Bible speaks about weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Where a person may or may not even feel physical pain (hard to know), yet his mind tortures him. Ultimately you and I do not need things, or toys. We need what? Peace with God. Where our relationship with God is right. Where there is perfect peace within us. Where the Creator steadies our minds. See, I don’t need my problems erased today, I need my sin forgiven, so that my mind is able to enjoy peace with God. This is why we need such a Saviour. This is why the angels deflected all glory to Christ. And this is why the shepherds dropped everything to seek Him. To gain from Christ, a perfect peace. And all God’s people said, amen.