Friday, December 25, 2015

“A Visitor from Bethlehem” (Luke 2:15-17)

S1528 12/24/15 CE/3C Hymns: (O) 379; 364; 380; 387; 361; (S) 358; (C) 363

Texts: Isaiah 9:2-7; Luke 2:8-20

Theme: “A Visitor from Bethlehem” (Luke 2:15-17)

Question: “Who is coming to visit you tonight?” (17th Sermon at Trinity).

This sermon will be preached in a first person dramatic narrative. The visitor from Bethlehem is an older Shepherd who was a young man at the time of the angels visit on the first Christmas Eve. He is dressed with Shepherd’s clothing has a white beard and holding a shepherd’s staff. Luke 2:15-17).

Introduction: In Nomine IESU

I have to apologize for my appearance and the smell of my clothing. I don’t mean to be barging in on you like this on this festive night. However, ever since that night (so long ago), I can’t help myself but tell of what I had seen and heard in the shepherd’s field near Bethlehem.

I beg your pardon for my rudeness. In my excitement to tell you of that great night of so long ago, I failed to tell you that I am Shlomo Ben Yehuda (Soloman son of Judah) I remember the night as if it was yesterday. I was only a young man of 14. It was my first year to be away from home and spend it out in the Judean hills along with the other shepherds in my family—my father, uncles and grandfather.

The day had been as usual. We had grazed the sheep near the village of Bethlehem. As the evening was approaching, we all gathered the sheep close to us. We were sitting near the fire listening to my grandfather telling us about the king of Israel David; who, too, was a shepherd and how he killed a lion and bear (with his bare hands) after they took a lamb from the herd. Scarcely had grandpa finished telling the story and all of a sudden there was this heavenly being right above us. I, along with the rest of the shepherds were frightened. We had never seen anything like this. I got so scared when the angel began to speak. The hair on my neck stood up, (rub neck and show fear), my legs shook from fear, I felt my heart beating so fast and I didn’t know what to do. I tried to hide for fear of what might happen to us.

Then, the angel spoke softly, yet with angelic heavenly voice saying, “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” (Lk. 2:10-11). I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Could it be? That the long expected Messiah, the TRUE Son of David promised to my ancestors has come? Is it possible that I, a shepherd boy might get to see the true King of Israel, the Savior of the world? Surely, it can’t be. Why, we are nothing but shepherds—insignificant people, yet the angel spoke that night.

My mind was racing wildly thinking of the angel’s words and all of a sudden the sky was lit up above as if it was noon day over Bethlehem. There were so many angels singing above, it was terrifying and yet exhilarating. My neck (look up) hurt as I kept looking up and listening to what they were saying. Oh, if you could have heard the angels’ choir that night, it was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard in my 14 years of life. They sang a song that I don’t believe I will ever forget. They said, “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”
(Lk. 2:14).

Shortly after the singing the angels left us to our sheep and the hills. I looked at my father wondering what does this mean. He looked at his father and wondered what does this mean. And I heard my grandfather say, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us” (Lk. 15b).

Excitement ran through our camp. The news had made us jump for joy. Without a thought about our sheep, I grabbed the torch, lit it up from the fire and ran as fast as possible trying to keep up with the adults as we headed towards Bethlehem. When we arrived, we found Joseph and Mary two proud parents looking at their infant child. There before my very own eyes, was the long expected Messiah. The King of kings is born in the most humble places among animals. And I, Shlomo Ben Yehuda got to kneel by His side, and…. touch Him with my own hands (look at hands). His parents were so happy. I was so happy I got to see the Savior. All of us were happy.

When we left the little manger, we couldn’t stop telling the people what we had seen. I told Moshe the Butcher; Ephraim the Carpenter; and Yosef the Potter. Everywhere we went, my father, uncles, grandfather and me would tell the people of the angel’s visit, our running to Bethlehem and seeing the New Born Savior of the world. PAUSE.

After that night things went back to normal. I kept my duties as a shepherd boy watching the flock by night with my father, uncles and grandfather. Making sure they had enough to eat and kept safe from the wild beasts. But I still remembered the night and wondered about the Savior and how He would save us from the Romans; what kind of Savior He would be and what His Kingdom would look like. PAUSE.

33 years later another event happened that is etched in my memory as that first night the angel’s told us about the Messiah. But this one was not a joyous night. I was still living in Bethlehem at this time. Both my grandfather and father had long gone to sleep in the earth and now I had my own children who helped me with the family business-taking care of the sheep. And yet that Friday afternoon is as alive in my heart as the night of the announcement of the angelic hosts in the sky above Bethlehem. Word had gone out from other shepherds from Jerusalem that Jesus the Savior of the world and the King of Israel was hanging on a Roman cross outside the city walls of Jerusalem. I couldn’t believe my ears. It can’t be!!! The long expected Messiah was not meant to die. He came to deliver. He came to save. There must be some mistake. Those shepherds must have heard wrong.

Well, I determined to travel to Jerusalem and see the thing I heard about. And sure enough as I was getting closer to Jerusalem I knew something was wrong. The sky got darker and darker and there just outside the city walls, there were three crosses. Right in the middle between two thieves was Jesus—the One who laid in the manger, the One whom I knelt before and the One whom I touched with my own hands. I knew because Pilate had written in my language a sign and put it above His head saying, יֵשׁוּעַ הַנָּצְרִי מֶלֶךְ הַיְּהוּדִים “Jesus of Nazareth King of the Jews.”

I stood there looking at this figure and wondered why. Why would they crucify Him like a murderer and a robber? Why would they want Him dead? What did He do? Why such hatred for the Savior of the world. Then I remembered the statement “And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid Him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn” (Lk. 2:7). It dawned on me then, then that those words already an indication of what would become of Him—He was born to die. The swaddling cloths were garments we Jewish people wore around our body in case someone died away from home and they would wrap the body carefully and lay it in the dirt. So Joseph must have taken the swaddling cloths and wrapped His foster child.

As I was reflecting on this thought, deep and alone in my mind, I was awakened by words I heard from His parched lips. I drew closer to the cross and the others. And what I heard I didn’t understand. Do you know what He said, Father, FORGIVE THEM, for they don’t know what they do!” How could He do that? How could He speak such forgiving words to those who persecuted Him and nailed Him to the cross? I didn’t know. But figured it must be love.

Many of the people began to leave as the darkness descended. And just as I was about to leave I heard one of the soldiers say, “He is dead! The King is dead! The Savior is dead!” Those words pierced my heart. But not as much as the laughter in the soldiers voice.

I left to go back to Bethlehem, broken hearted and teary eye about what had taken place. I told my family about what I had seen that afternoon in Jerusalem and we all wept together over the fate of the Savior of the world.

Few days later I heard word that this Savior had been raised from the grave; that He is alive. Again, I couldn’t believe my ears. Again I traveled the miles road to Jerusalem. I saw many people in the street speaking about the empty tomb. And that the Savior really had been raised from the grave. And that He died to earn forgiveness for us sinners. That was the promise the angels sang about that night: “Glory to God in the Highest and peace on earth…”

Right then and there, I fell to the ground (fall down) and wept realizing that the Savior had come for me. He was born in the manger as the angel told us for me; that the Savior suffered for me; that the Savior died for me; that the Savior rose for me. Me, Shlomo Ben Yehuda, a shepherd man came to understand the meaning and blessings of that night of so long ago.

Many years have come and gone since that first night when I was 14 years with my father, grandfather and uncles watching over our sheep as the angels announced to us the “Good News” that is born to us. I am now an old man, but no matter how old I get I never get tired of telling the story to anyone who listens.

I hope you, too, in your visit to the manger tonight, can hear the angel’s voice, see with your eyes the Savior of the world and tell all you meet what you have seen and heard.

(The visitor leaves the stage.)


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