Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 2:8-20 Sermon
December 25, 2005
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
35 "When Christmas Morn Is Dawning"
39 "Good Christian Men Rejoice"
33 "All Hail To Thee O Blessed Morn"
40 "The First Noel"
47 "Away In A Manger"
22 "From Heaven Above To Earth I Come"
31 "Angels From The Realms Of Glory"
TEXT (vs. 8-12): “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you in born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.”
This morning, I’d like to tell you about a man by the name of Ernie. Ernie was the type of guy you’ve probably seen from time to time, or maybe heard about; or perhaps you might even know or have known someone like him.
Ernie was 50 years old, but he looked at least 70. He didn’t have a home, and slept in alley ways or wherever he could find a quiet place to curl up. His wife had left him many years before, and he sort of drifted from job to job in the years since; most of the time not having any work at all. And so, Ernie pretty much resolved himself to picking up the odd dollar wherever he could, and he would spend it on a bottle of Muscatel or some other cheap wine. He was always able to find enough money to be able to stay either drunk or asleep most of the time.
You can about imagine what he looked like. Long stringy yellow grey hair, a deeply wrinkled face with whisker stubble, a few rotten stumps of teeth in his mouth, tattered dirty clothes, and a smell that wouldn’t let you get any closer than about 50 feet.
Poor Ernie. People had tried to help him out from time to time, but he always went back into his old ways. He could never pull himself together for more than a couple of weeks. For Ernie, life was nothing more than a chore; and the quicker he could make it pass, the drunker he stayed, and the more he slept, the better off he reckoned he was. Even though the thought of dying scared him, Ernie figured that if he were drunk enough, then he wouldn’t be thinking about dying; and besides, death couldn’t be any worse than life was for him. And so, that’s the way Ernie existed.
One day, Ernie was walking along, and found $50 lying on the ground. He was absolutely delighted! He immediately went and bought a good supply of the cheapest wine he could find, and began what would be a three-day binge, most of which he wouldn’t be able to remember.
And then one morning, after all of his wine was gone, he woke up. Oh, the pain in his head! He looked around through fuzzy eyes. Where was he? And then he heard a loud “mooooing.” As things cleared up, he saw that he had stumbled into a cattle shed, and had slept for goodness only knows how long on a pile of feed sacks. He sat up and trued to get things into perspective.
He then discovered that he was feeling rather hungry. “I wonder where I can get some breakfast?” he thought. And then he chuckled to himself, “Nobody I know would give me anything!” And so he dipped his hand into one of the feed sacks, and began to eat the ground-up corn used for cattle feed.
In the still hours of the morning, he sat there and mused about things to himself. And then, the sound of church bells broke the silence. As Ernie listened to the bells, it suddenly occurred to him that it was Christmas Day. “Joy to the world!” he jeered and shouted, as he thrust another handful of feed into his mouth. And then his thoughts carried him back to his boyhood, when he was in Sunday School. The words he had learned as a boy suddenly appeared in his mind: “Away in a manger, no crib for a bed; the little Lord Jesus lay down his sweet head; the stars in the sky all looked down where he lay; the little Lord Jesus asleep on the hay.
“Well,” Ernie thought, “At least I’m not the only one to have slept in a cattle shed.” And then he began to think, “I wonder why God would have permitted his own Son to be born in a place like this? After all, an all-powerful God could have had his Son born in the finest of palaces; but a place like this? Why did he do it? I wonder what God saw in a cattle shed?”
And then it dawned on him. “Maybe what God saw in the cattle shed was the likes of me. Maybe Jesus was born in a place like this to save someone the likes of me…maybe he slept in a manger to help a guy like me…too low for anyone else to help.”
And then, it was like anew light dawned in Ernie’s soul. He began to weep and said, “God be merciful to me, a sinner…forgive me for Jesus’ sake.”
And as he sat there weeping, the tears streaming down his dirty and wrinkled face, he began to sing at the top of his lungs in his broken voice: “Be near me Lord Jesus I ask thee to stay, close by me forever and love me I pray; bless all the dear children in thy tender care, and fit us for heaven to live with thee there.”
And it was almost as if Ernie could hear angels singing along with him. And for the first time in his life, Ernie felt completely at peace. He knew he didn’t need to hide his fears in a bottle of wine any more; because he knew his Saviour and found forgiveness and peace.
And that day, there was recorded yet another birth in a cattle shed; a soul that had been lost and clouded for years now had been born again; born from above. God the Holy Spirit touched the heart of someone that society deemed almost worthless, and led him to faith, and the discovery of the Saviour who had been born in a cattle shed approximately 2,000 years before.
Now perhaps when we look at ourselves, we don’t see the likes of someone like Ernie. Perhaps we are thankful that we have what we do, and we don’t have to worry about where our next bite is coming from, nor do we have to be concerned about a place to lay our head to get a little sleep.
But if we’re honest with ourselves, our lives are probably nothing to brag about. For however good we might think we are, we all have those times and events in our lives that put us to shame. And the mere thought that those shameful parts of our lives are like an open book to God, really makes us feel uncomfortable. For Ernie however, his shameful life was all out in the open. He knew that God saw him for what he was; and likewise, God sees each and every one of us for what we really are, no matter how hard we try to hide it.
Such feelings of course are inclined to make us think that we are in no way good enough to get into heaven. We see that we can in no way be that perfect person that God wants us to be.
But in our Bible reading today, we are invited to come along with the Shepherds, to a place as unlikely as a cattle shed, where we will find the newborn Saviour, Jesus Christ.
When God came to earth as a man, it was a most humble beginning. And from this humble beginning, the birth of Jesus Christ would change the world.
The manger at Bethlehem is the humble beginning for every Christian. When God comes and touches each heart, we are directed to his manger, and to the person of Jesus Christ. God invites us to believe in Jesus Christ as our Saviour from sin, and be born from above. And when we have faith in Christ, then we will experience a new hope, and a new found freedom, and the peace that God promises to all who believe.
Whenever we think of ourselves as being too good, then all we have to do is remember that God himself descended to this earth in the most primitive and humble conditions.
And on the other hand, whenever we think of ourselves as not being worthy of heaven, or God’s forgiveness and love, then we must remember that God sees us as worthy of that love, because he came to meet us at the level we needed him the most.
What did God see in a cattle shed? He saw you, he saw me, and he saw every one of us. The shepherds found their Saviour in a cattle shed—Ernie did too, and so should we.
Faith has its humble beginnings when God touches our sin sick and weary hearts. Faith then leads us to look into that manger in Bethlehem to see the Saviour that was born, lived, died, and rose again for you and for me.
Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. It’s a humble beginning, with a most glorious ending.