Saturday, 30 December 2017

Notes on Luke 2.15-21. Why did the shepherds praise?



What brings you great joy? Or if you struggle to think of that, what makes you happy?

Talk together for a minute or two.

Some suggestions!
Arsenal winning FA cup!
Cats or children – not necessarily in that order
Really great meal
A performance
A glass of cool beer on a hot day

Have you noticed that we praise what brings us joy?
‘They played such flowing football. It was beautiful to watch’
‘The cat is so cute. Look at this photo of her’
‘That steak was outstanding’
‘That production was brilliant’
‘This beer is so amazing’

We praise what brings us joy.

So why do the shepherds praise God?

I suspect the shepherds praise God because they have been given meaning and hope. And I think that they praise God because they have met with him. And that gives them joy

1.      They had been given meaning.
The angels had come to them and so they knew that they mattered to God.

And for people who were despised and marginalised – which is what shepherds were – that must have come as an amazing revelation. The angels had come to them!

2.      They had been given hope.
They knew that God had sent them in Jesus a Saviour and a Lord

I wonder how they lived the rest of their lives knowing that the baby that they had seen in Bethlehem was the Saviour and the Lord?
Did they follow his career?
I’m not quite sure how they would do that in days when there was no VK or facebook, or newspapers.
They would have probably kept an eye on him for the first couple of years in Bethlehem, and maybe gone out of their way to support his parents.
They would certainly have known of another night in Bethlehem, when the soldiers came and slaughtered the little children – maybe even their own children. And when they heard the soldiers say that they were looking for a king, they would have known that it was connected to Jesus. But he and his parents had simply disappeared.
And then what? Maybe when they had to obey orders issued by the local kings and rulers, they thought secretly, but there is another king. And we know that somewhere out there, there is someone who is coming to save us. They may not have known how or what from, but they do know that he will bring peace and he will be king.
And maybe they continued to tell people of the night when the angels appeared, of what was said, and of how they went to see the baby Jesus. But I guess as the years went by and nothing happened, maybe they spoke less of those events
And for those who were still alive when Jesus began his ministry 30 years later, would they have connected this man doing astonishing things and saying amazing stuff with the child born in Bethlehem? And would the hope have again begun to be aroused in them.
And if they had connected Jesus the baby with Jesus the man – remember there were quite a few people with the name of Jesus at the time, so it would not have been obvious – I wonder what they made of the crucifixion?

Hope is a funny thing.
It is there – and it gives us joy. It is taken away – and there is emptiness. It returns and joy is rekindled, and then it is taken away again and there is nothing

But then they heard rumours of the resurrection ..

3.      They knew what they had suspected for many years – that God existed.
They saw the evidence with their eyes – the angels had come to them
and they went to Bethlehem and found out that what the angels said was true.
But more than that, I suspect that they were filled with joy not just because they knew that God existed, but because he had met with them – or at least, on that holy night, he had come very very close to them.
And like many people who have become Christians, who have encountered God, who have heard him speaking to them – not necessarily as dramatically as the shepherds – but who have been touched by joy, they cannot stop speaking of God, and they cannot stop praising him.


Why, my friends, do we find it so easy to praise a meal or a football team or a cat, which bring us fleeting joy, and yet we find it so difficult to praise God, who is the eternal joy giver?  

Of course, we praise him when we come to church on Sundays.
We praise him when we say our prayers during the week.
We praise him when we pray the Lord’s prayer: ‘Our Father in Heaven, Hallowed be your name’.
And don’t despise that even if, much of the time, you find that they are just words that you are speaking.
We’re speaking truth
And often when we declare the truth, particularly about God, that truth comes and lives in us, and transforms us, so that in time we feel what we declare. I often find that when I sing hymns or a song in my own prayer time.
And as CS Lewis said, ‘We worship God today as a duty in the hope that we will worship him freely and with great joy tomorrow’

But why do we find it so hard to praise our God as naturally as we might praise a theatre performance.
Is it because we have set our meaning and our hope in the things of this world?
Is it because we are looking to find our significance in what others say about us, and not what God says of us?
Is it because we are looking for hope in the things that bring us delight in this world?

Of course, we should praise the things that bring us joy here and now. Please learn to be people of praise. If you don’t feel like doing it, go out of your way to make yourself do it. If you can’t praise the physical, how can you begin to learn to praise the spiritual?

But I suspect that it is as we begin to realise just how fleeting and shallow the things of this world are, and just how real and solid the things of that world are, that we will begin to discover that our real joy does not come from things here – but from things there.

And when – by the power of the Holy Spirit at work in us -  that happens, we may ponder like Mary, but we will also praise like the shepherds.

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