The Shepherd’s Candle
The lighting of this candle is a reminder that God came for the most unlikely and insignificant people.
By that I mean this, the first announcement of the Messiah’s birth was given to a group of shepherds! (Luke 2:8-14) There was not a more unlikely group to receive such an important announcement, unless maybe it was the Gentiles.
Think about it. If you were making the announcements who would you pick to hear it first? The high priest? The whole company of priests? The religious ruling body called the Sanhedrin? King Herod? All of these would be possibilities. But God chose none of them.
The People Who Heard
God sent the angels to announce the birth not to the important and the elite, but to the ungood.
Shepherding sheep in Jesus’ day was not the honorable profession it had been in the days of King David. In the New Testament period shepherds were considered ritually unclean because of their jobs. They had a reputation for being dishonest, and were not even allowed to testify in court proceedings. It is even reported that one rabbi said “Give no help to heathens or shepherds.” In many ways they were the outcasts of that society.
He didn’t come to the religious leaders of the day, God came to the ungood!!!
All of this is a reminder that many times God does not call the rich and mighty but the poor and lowly.
For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong -1 Corinthians 1:26-27
Can you imagine this group of shepherds out in the field when an angel suddenly appears? It was probably a very ordinary night. You have the feeling reading Luke’s account that it was a quiet evening. And then SUDDENLY the sky exploded with light, the glory of God surrounded them and an angel appeared saying Fear not. Really? Don’t be afraid?
They probably ignored that part of the greeting. It is hard to imagine that the shepherds suddenly quit shaking after the angel shared those words of comfort.
Then the angel says Behold! (Luke 2:10) In Scripture this word almost always means something unusual, something completely unexpected is about to happen. Behold, the announcement of the arrival of the Messiah has come to the shepherds, the ungood of Israel. A baby was born in Bethlehem, for them!
The angel told the shepherds a baby was born in Bethlehem. This baby was the long awaited Messiah. The angel described the child as the Savior for all people, Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11)
By appearing to the shepherds, the angel revealed the grace of God to all mankind. As if to punctuate the moment, a choir of angels appeared and sang a chorus:
Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased. Glory to God in the highest BECAUSE of the glory of God has visited the lowest! (Luke 2:14)
The Place They Were Told
It shouldn’t have been such a surprise. Everyone knew the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, they just were not paying attention. The old rabbis taught that the announcement of His birth would be at Migdal Edar, or the “tower of the flock”.
As for you, tower of the flock, Hill of the daughter of Zion, to you it will come— Even the former dominion will come, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem. -Micah 4:8
Small rock towers were common in Judah. The shepherds used them as watch towers so they could see the surrounding area. They were so common that one might have asked “which tower”? The one outside Bethlehem of course!
The Shepherd’s candle also symbolizes the Joy at the coming of Jesus. The first two Sundays of Advent focus on Preparation and Hope, this third Sunday shifts to an atmosphere joy, anticipation and expectancy.The message to the shepherds was one of “good tidings of great joy.” It serves as a reminder that the Christmas message is one of rejoicing.
What about you?
Are you one of the ungood? Do you feel insignificant? On the fringe? Unnoticed? A baby was born in Bethlehem for you! God came for the ungood!
Or maybe that doesn’t describe you. Maybe your life circumstances are not bad at all. But, what is your attitude towards the seemingly insignificant of society? Are you willing to get your hands dirty with those who feel unworthy, dirty, guilty, ashamed in order to share the gospel with them?
God uses people from all walks of life to spread the good news of His Son. God chose to use the shepherds to describe the vastness of His love for us. This week as we think about Advent, we discover that God does extraordinary things through ordinary people. God chose the insignificant of the day to reveal His magnificence.
God reminds us, as you have done it to the least of these, you have done it to me! (Matthew 25:45)
Zephaniah 3:14, 20
Joy to the World
Joy to the world, the Lord is come!
Let earth receive her King;
Let every heart prepare Him room,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven and nature sing,
And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.
Joy to the earth, the Savior reigns!
Let men their songs employ;
While fields and floods, rocks, hills and plains
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat the sounding joy,
Repeat, repeat, the sounding joy.
No more let sins and sorrows grow,
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found,
Far as the curse is found,
Far as, far as, the curse is found.
He rules the world with truth and grace,
And makes the nations prove
The glories of His righteousness,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders of His love,
And wonders, wonders, of His love.
The first candle of Advent is the Prophet’s candle or the Hope candle and it always focuses our hearts on the hope of the first Advent promised by the prophets. In this post, we have chosen to cover the Bethlehem candle or the Peace candle as the second candle of Advent.
The remaining three candles of Advent may deal with the various parts of the Advent story. They may vary from church to church or even from year to year. The sequence for the remaining three Sundays might Bethlehem, Shepherds, Angels. Or Love, Joy, Peace. No matter what sequence is used, the Scripture reading, prayers, lighting of the candles, the participation of worshipers in the service, all focus on unfolding the story of redemption through God’s grace in the birth of Jesus.
I have chosen to go the route of Bethlehem, Shepherds, and Angels.
The second candle, the Bethlehem candle represents peace. It symbolizes the preparations being made to receive and cradle the Christ child. Bethlehem is a story about a humble couple on an unwanted journey, at an inconvenient time, to visit a tiny insignificant town.
Augustus Caesar was ruling and he called for a census to be taken, but God was in charge, for He used Caesar’s edict to move Mary and Joseph eighty miles from Nazareth to Bethlehem to fulfill His Word. Even though there was no room for Mary and Joseph God had orchestrated these events. Mary and Joseph had to leave Nazareth so that they could register in Bethlehem and the Scriptures (Micah 5:2-5) be fulfilled.
When Mary said “May it be done to me according to Your word.” (Luke 1:38), it meant that from then on, her life would be a part of the fulfillment of divine prophecy. God had promised that the Savior would be a Jew, from the tribe of Judah and the family of David, born of a virgin in Bethlehem, the city of David. All of this occurred just as the Scriptures said, and Caesar unknowingly played an important part.
As we draw nearer to the birth of Jesus, we begin to see just how specific God was about giving His people “directions” to the main event! In Micah 5, we read a prophecy that occurred 735 years before the birth of Christ and yet it’s as specific as if it were spoken right before! When the magi arrive at Herod’s residence, they explain to the king that Jesus is supposed to be born in Bethlehem by quoting these very Scriptures. God did exactly what He said He would do!
Micah tells us several things. He tells us where the Messiah will be born, that He will come from a tribe of Judah, He will rule in Israel, Jesus is eternal and divine but will rule on earth and He will be a shepherd to His people. This One will be our peace.
Bethlehem was the smallest clan of Judah. It is a very insignificant town just outside of Jerusalem. Yet God did not choose Jerusalem for the birthplace of the Messiah. God loved the world so much that He chose, a tiny insignificant town as the location for the birth of the one who literally changed the world. This is the first of many reminders that God loves even the insignificant of the world, and in fact, demonstrates this several times in the weeks to come leading up to the Messiah’s birth.
So my question is this What about you? Don’t you want peace this Christmas? Jesus is our Peace! In the busyness of the season will you make room for Christ, or will you miss it? I can’t help but think of the Inn Keeper, would he have given up his room had he known who needed it?
Read the words to this familiar Christmas hymn.
O Little Town of Bethlehem
O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see thee lie!
Above thy deep and dreamless sleep, the silent stars go by.
Yet in thy dark streets shineth the everlasting Light;
The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.
For Christ is born of Mary, and gathered all above,
While mortals sleep, the angels keep their watch of wondering love.
O morning stars together, proclaim the holy birth,
And praises sing to God the King, and peace to men on earth!
How silently, how silently, the wondrous Gift is giv’n;
So God imparts to human hearts the blessings of His Heav’n.
No ear may hear His coming, but in this world of sin,
Where meek souls will receive Him still, the dear Christ enters in.
Where children pure and happy pray to the blessèd Child,
Where misery cries out to Thee, Son of the mother mild;
Where charity stands watching and faith holds wide the door,
The dark night wakes, the glory breaks, and Christmas comes once more.
O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray;
Cast out our sin, and enter in, be born in us today.
We hear the Christmas angels the great glad tidings tell;
O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel!
If you have not done so already won’t you ask the Christ child to enter in and be born in you today?
If He has already entered in, begin to prepare your hearts to celebrate His birth in the upcoming weeks. You have “the One who is our Peace” dwelling within – May you walk in His Peace this Christmas season.
What is Advent?
The word Advent means “coming” or “arrival.” The focus of the entire season is:
• the celebration of the birth of Jesus the Christ in his First Advent.
• the anticipation of the return of Christ the King in his Second Advent.
Advent is much more than simply marking a 2,000 year old event in history. Advent is a season of preparation. Not only is Advent about preparing to celebrate the first coming of Christ as a baby, but it’s also about preparing for Christ’s second coming as judge. In Advent we are reminded that the Christmas story began thousands of years before the birth of Jesus, with the people of Israel. In Advent we are reminded that the Christmas story is not over; Jesus will return. (more…)
When Angels Speak
The fourth candle is often called the angel candle. It represents the messengers who announced the birth of the Messiah.
In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly 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. This will be a 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 2:8–14
What do you think of when you think of angels?
Clarence in “It’s A Wonderful Life”? Or maybe chubby little cherubs with curly hair and stubby wings come to mind. Often people think of friends or loved ones, especially children, who have died. At a child’s funeral you sometimes hear a grieving parent say God called one of His angels home. It is interesting that those sorts of angelic figures exist in our culture. But, they are not the angels of Scripture.
Executors of divine judgment
Then the angel of the Lord went out and struck 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians; and when men arose early in the morning, behold, all of these were dead. – Isaiah 37:36
Angels are terrifying executors of divine judgment. It was 2 angels which brought judgment to Sodom and Gomorrah. And much later, when Nebuchadnezzar’s pride got the best of him, it was an angel which declared his kingship would be cut down like a tree. (Daniel 4:13-17)
In Revelation it only takes one angel to seize Satan and throw him into the pit for a thousand years. (Revelation 20:1-3)
These are not chubby cherubs but terrifying creatures who have authority to execute the judgment of God.
Our help in times of trouble
Angels shut up the mouths of lions (Daniel 6:22) and open prison doors (Acts 12). They execute divine judgment, but they are also the manifestation of a very present help in time of need. They are sent to protect the children of God.
This messenger idea is actually one of the main tasks of angels in the Bible. They were the messengers of God. Often when they appeared the first words they said were “Do not be afraid!’ This was probably because everyone there was afraid. The angels in the Word of God seem to have been terrifying. Men fainted and women cried when they realized they were talking with an angel. After all, angels were the ministers of judgment sent from God. But, they were also messengers to those who had found favor with God.
In Luke 1:8-20 the angel Gabriel announced to Zacharias that he would father a son, John, who would be the forerunner of the Messiah.
In Luke 1:26:-38 Gabriel visits Mary to tell her she would give birth to the Messiah.
Mary, said the angel Gabriel, you will have a son,
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 His kingdom will have no end. – Luke 1:31–33
In Matthew 1:20-25 it was an angel that told Joseph in a dream to take Mary as his wife because the child she carried was conceived of the Holy Spirit.
…behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, “Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for the Child who has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins. – Matthew 1:20 –21
In Luke 2:8-14 Jesus’ birth was announced by angels to a group of shepherds just outside of Bethlehem.
…for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. – Luke 2:11
The angelic host proclaimed the birth of the Savior, the Messiah (Christ), the Lord. The angels have always been messengers of God. On that first Christmas day they came to declare there is a new king in town, one whose rule will never end. And at His name, Jesus, every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, every knee will bow.
The fourth candle reminds us that the angels are the messengers of God who, in this case, bring good news. The good news is that there is a new King in town, and he is taking over. That is the message of the angels to everyone who will listen.
This kingdom is both a present and future reality. He is King and He will always be King. As Christians we live in the kingdom of this world as citizens of the kingdom of the coming world.
Wrapping it Up
Christmas is both personal and corporate. Don’t miss this! It is the day Christians celebrate the birth of Jesus, the one who saves His people from their sins. But it is also the day I celebrate the birth, the first Advent, of the One who saved me from my sins.
He has saved His people from their sins, but have you bowed the knee, have you surrendered your life to become a member of His kingdom? He saves His people from their sins, those who are members of His kingdom. If you have never surrendered your life to Christ what better time could there possibly be than now?
In prayer ask God to forgive you of your sins and allow Him to have the authority in your life.
If you are reading this and you give your life to Christ, please let me know. I would love to pray with you and come alongside you to help you grow in this new relationship. I would love to hear from you!