(watch here: https://youtu.be/H4mgJkJMSPM)
8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’
15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
I love how our reading for this morning, a most holy morning, has us reflect on characters in the Christmas narrative that are the most minor characters in the whole story…unless you consider the animals in the manger ‘characters.’ The shepherds, nobody knows definitively how many, are simply minding their business tending to their flocks. Other than tavern owners, they were probably the only ones awake in the wee hours of the morning at that time. The graveyard shift really wasn’t a feasible option, what with all the extra effort of maintaining some form of lighting. No, the people of the Middle East during the time of Jesus were content with laboring during the daylight hours. The night time was for shepherds and tavern owners and anyone interested in getting into trouble. And as committed they were to their sheep, shepherds still had a bad reputation of not being the smartest, most sociable of the bunch. Their work didn’t demand much other than patience and dedication so shepherds weren’t considered very special by hardly anyone.
Yet they are the ones approached by the angel on that cold, dark night so long ago! They are the ones who first found out that a truly special event had occurred! The shepherds…the lowest of workers…the lowest of society were the first to receive the great challenge of spreading the news about the birth of the Savior, the birth of the Messiah. What a strange sort of justice to task such lowly people with such great responsibility! God had to have known what he was doing, with whom he was dealing. Of course, He knew! Of course, God came to the least expected among us. Of course, God lifted the lowliest among us. Is this not how Jesus would go on to minister to us? Did he not minister primarily to the downcast and the outcast? God loves to love whom we consider unlovable. God loves to reach out to those we cast off for whatever reason. They have a special place in God’s heart. Mind you, we are all loved by God equally. None of us is loved more than another. We are all precious and wonderfully made by our God. But God doesn’t like to see us suffering. He allows for suffering but He takes no delight in our suffering. No, only the devil enjoys our suffering. He relishes in it because it makes him more powerful, or at least he thinks it does. But his power is no match to the power of God. God’s love is much greater than the suffering of the world! God’s love is much stronger than the suffering of the world! God’s love is much more sustaining than the suffering of the world! Long after our world has been destroyed and there is nothing left of this world, God’s love will remain, burning ever so bright, ever so radiantly, ever so true. If there is one thing true in this world it is the love of God. But getting back to the shepherds…
As I mentioned earlier, I love these characters in the Christmas story. I love ‘em because they represent so many of us. So many of us get caught up with our small, seemingly insignificant lives. We focus on any number of things, whether it’s our jobs or our families or our friends or our health or paying bills or worrying about any of these things, that we can quickly forget how God is a part of our lives, how God wants to be a part of our lives. We get wrapped up in our lives until one God has enough. God crashes into our lives, unexpected and uninvited. And He doesn’t do it without a reason. God usually tasks us with something. He sets us to work doing something. Now some of us can ignore him and whatever He tasks us to do. But my experience with doing this doesn’t actually get rid of him and whatever it is He wants me to do. He comes back around eventually and tries to persuade me to get to work. I can ignore him again but He’ll just come around again. God is persistent! It’s best to simply listen and get to work doing whatever it is He wants you to do after the first time He approaches you. It’s best to simply do as the shepherds did: immediately proclaiming the good news of Jesus’ birth to all the world.
You see, the shepherds represent so many of us but they also serve as guides on how we are to respond to encounters with God. Each of us can get caught up in this season and believing it’s all about satisfying our needs to give or receive or spend time with family and friends or take vacations. This season isn’t about us…it is about Jesus. It is about God crashing into our world and into our lives and sharing his love with us. It us about God tasking us with sharing his love just as He tasked those shepherds with proclaiming the good news. Now we can ignore him this season but believe me, He’ll come back around. Maybe not in the weeks and months ahead but certainly next Christmas…and the next Christmas…and the next Christmas…and all the Christmases after that! God is persistent! He will find a way into our hearts and into our lives.
So as we set about enjoying the festivities of this day, let us follow the example of the shepherds. God is tasking each one of us with sharing his love to the world. God is with us this morning. Perhaps more importantly, God’s love is with us. Let us share that love with each other and with the world.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.