The Finale

Pastor Terry Inman

12-23-12

 

When I was a kid every good story concluded with “The End”. This week we were watching the 1954 movie, “White Christmas staring Bing Crosby”. A retired World War II General gets his Christmas wish for snow in Vermont and Bing Crosby gets the girl. 

The final scene ends with “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas” Then after all the kissing “THE END”. The End was a good feeling then.  

 This finale of “The Christmas Tale” is not necessarily the end. Just like we said in the beginning this story is never ending. What appears to be the finale could also be the opening. It’s like a commencement. When we graduate from kindergarten we are on our way to retirement. 

There were hints even before Christmas that this story would have its climatic moments but it would be continually unfolding. A good movie gives you subtle clues even before the plot begins to take shape. 

The visitors that take center stage in the Christmas Story are not just random sightseers. There’s something prophetic and purposeful about shepherds and kings making brief but very telling treks to God’s nursery. 

Hundreds of years before the sheep-herding occupation lost it’s glamour  King’s where called “shepherds”. They were given the responsibly to care for the welfare of the nation. They were to feed and lead, provide and protect the people. The nation was God’s flock and they were His shepherds. They were God’s anointed ministers of justice and peace. 

Israel’s most notable King was a young shepherd boy named David. He certainly wasn’t perfect but he was God’s choice to rule his people. He left a legacy, “David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.” Psa. 78.72 (NIV) 

He had God approval. “I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.”  Acts 13.22 (NIV)

Unfortunately not all shepherd/kings all were like this. This is where one of the first hints to this never-ending Christmas story begins.

God’s ancient prophets were guides to His leaders and His people. They were often the nation’s conscience. They offered divinely inspired commentary on spiritual, moral, political, and even economic issues. It was not always appreciated or well received especially by corrupt leaders. 

Elijah one of the most famous of these prophets complained. “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, broken down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” 1Kings 19.14 (NIV)

Jeremiah and Ezekiel were also well known prophets. They didn't always have popular messages especially for some of the nation’s leaders. They condemned some of Israel’s self-seeking shepherds. They warned them that God would remove them because of their neglect and abuse.    

Ezekiel delivered God’s displeasure. “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them. Ezekiel 34.10 (NIV) 

Now this is where we get our first glimpse of a plot in the Christmas Tale. Unsatisfied with these corrupt leaders God himself will shepherd his flock.   

For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. (v.11-12) God himself will give compassion and justice! 

I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.  (v.15-16) 

Then the Prophet reveals God’s plan to send a shepherd/king from David’s dynasty. “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd.” Eze. 34.23 (NIV) Now, this was long after David had served his nation.

Hundreds of year’s later God’s angel Gabriel thickens the plot with some mystifying news for an understandably terrified peasant girl. Luke a detailed physician records the dialog. 

Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. 

The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” Luke 1.31-33 (NIV) 

It makes total sense that shepherds and foreign kings would be featured in the Christmas Tale. Jesus Christ a shepherd-king was born! Why wouldn't the plot, the players even the location be all about shepherds and sheep. This shepherd was destined to be our savior. 

The angel made that midnight message clear to these alarmed shepherds. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.”  Luke 2.10-11 (NIV) 

The finale is not in a rustic manger it’s on a rustic cross. That’s just the beginning the story!  Our shepherd risks His life for the sheep. 

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10.11(NIV) David proved his shepherding ability as a young boy. He protected his father’s flocks from a lion and a bear. 

One of the young victims in the Connecticut shooting massacre was a special needs student who died in the arms of his favorite teacher-aide. Six year old, Dylan was found wrapped in the arms of Ann Marie Murphy, who pulled the boy close to her as she tried to shield him from the spray of bullets that killed them both. She was like a shepherd! 

The Apostle John who identified himself as the disciple Jesus loved wrote this definition of love. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15.13 (NIV) 

In the first of his three short letters John wrote. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”1 John 4.10 (NIV) 

The good news of the Christmas Tale is the ongoing saga of salvation for the whole human race. This shepherd gave his life for us. Some may ask why. Why would God send His son to earth to die such disgraceful death? 

Reprehensible atrocious like last weeks shootings of young innocents is evidence that there is a dark and evil influence operating in our world.   

Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10.10 (NIV) 

It is obvious that we live in culture pervasive with death and darkness. Violence, murder, mayhem and moral perversion is profitable in the media marketplace. The bible says Jesus came to destroy the works of Satan. 

We don’t have to be reprehensible to need a savior. The bible makes it clear that we are all sinful and in need of a savior. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” Rom. 3:23-24    

Sin alienates us from our creator. God is loving but also holy. He cannot be compromised by our sinfulness. The sentence for this sin is spiritual death or separation from God. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6.23 (NIV) 

Someone had to satisfy justice. There is always some kind of exchange involved in redemption. Someone has to pay for liberation and restoration.  

This is why Jesus Christ was born to give His life in exchange for ours. 

The apostle Paul says it this way. “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Romans 5.6-8 (NIV) 

The prophet Isaiah said we are all stay sheep in need of a shepherd, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  Isaiah 53.6 (NIV) 

The apostle Peter who denied Christ in the face of fear would agree. He wrote, “We were like sheep going astray, but now we have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls.” 1 Peter 2.25 (NIV)    

Our world needs a loving shepherd, a savior more now than it did then. We personally need a savior. We have strayed. We have lost our way. We are wandering souls until we find the shepherd our soul.   

The pathway from the manger to the cross wasn’t easy. Jesus felt every human emotion. He suffered every agony known to man.  He sobbed in the garden when he felt abandoned. His trial was a travesty of justice. He was beat un-mercifully. His death was sadistic. Why, because he took on himself all the sin and evil of the world.     

Thank God The Christmas Tale doesn't end with a cruel cross.  Jesus also rose from the dead.  The bible says, “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”  Romans 10.9 (NIV) 

We have a shepherd-king. We have a savior. He is alive! He fills us with God’s Spirit. He gives us life. He gives us peace. He gives us purpose. He gives us hope for the future.  

Our Christmas Tale ends with a beginning, the beginning of your story. Where will you take this story? Where will the Jesus of Christmas end up for you? Safe and sound, just a baby in a manger…or a personal savior who still does wonders. Is He your shepherd? Is He your savior!   

I invite you to continue the story? Will you invite him in? Will you let the God who created you, the God who died for you, the God who lives for you…will you let the Lord Jesus Christ live in you and lead your life? 

Invite the shepherd born in Bethlehem to give new birth to you today! 

Prayer: Father God with deep gratitude I welcome your Son, Jesus Christ to be my Lord and savior. I know I am sinful and need your forgiveness and freedom. I receive your new life now. Take the lead from now on. Give me your peace and presence and help me to fulfill your purposes.  Amen.