December 24, 2020
Like many people, I grew up watching A Charlie Brown Christmas. It was a staple for the season and one that my family looked forward to watching again and again. As I reflect on that time in my early childhood, it was also probably the first time I had heard the Gospel. Linus, stepping boldly out onto the stage and dropping his security blanket, revealed the true meaning of Christmas. A gospel first revealed two thousand years ago to startled shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night. In that manger on the first Christmas, a hope was born into the world bearing a light for all.
In this story of Christ’s birth, we have much in common with the shepherds. We, personally, are part of Christ’s family and called to the manger in a hopeful remembrance of that night when the angels brought the good news of the Messiah to the shepherds. Like the shepherds, we have the opportunity to leave this scene and share the good news with others as we glorify and praise the name of the Lord for all to hear.
Unlike the shepherds, we know what to expect. This is a story that we have been sharing since the beginning of time. A prophecy that is foretold in Isaiah, that is revealed in the birth of Christ. While the shepherds knew the story from Isaiah, they most likely did not expect to be the recipients of such world changing news. To them it was an ordinary evening in the fields with no expectations of being led to such glory and wonder. Why the shepherds? Surely, there were others worthier. Why not the religious in the temple praying? Why not the devout that followed the law of the prophets?
The shepherds, while Jewish, could not make it to the temple because of their commitments to the flocks in the field. Their responsibility to the sheep outweighed for them any other practices. Being a shepherd was an entry level job. Quite often it would go to the youngest son in the family to care for the flocks. It was a thankless job, yet the shepherds were responsible for their family’s well-being. If you recall, David was the youngest son of Jesse and when Samuel told Jesse to bring him in from the fields, the Lord told Samuel to anoint David as the next king of Israel. David was a shepherd. Jesus’ lineage is traced back to David and the reason that Mary and Joseph have returned to Bethlehem for the census. And here we find other shepherds, multiple generations later, being the first to hear of the glory on this wonderous evening. As much as others have talked down the image of the shepherd as being dirty and of bad moral character, I am not quite buying into that image. The shepherds leave the scene of the manger going home glorifying and praising God. They were now messengers of the Good News!
It is no mistake that Jesus will take on the image of the shepherd when he begins his ministry. The responsibility, care, love, and longing for all to see the light and experience hope is what drives his ministry. It is what will bring the world together in peace. These shepherds out in the field the night Jesus was born had these same qualities. God honored these shepherds by the appearance of the angels, and it was God that wanted to bring the message to all people. Time and time again, God is welcoming the unlikely into the story.
It continues in Luke’s gospel with Mary, a teenage mother who was not prepared to have a child but said yes. Joseph, a reluctant father who nearly left Mary, but was reassured by God that everything was going to work out as planned and said yes. Shepherds in the field going about business as usual and while startled by the angels, say yes to going to see the child lying in a manger. These are reminders for us as God’s faithful people to be prepared and say yes when we hear God calling us to the wonderous possibilities established for all of humanity in this beautiful creation.
It did not take much to get the shepherds attention as they were surrounded with sheep in the field. This is where we encounter a difference between us and the shepherds. We have so much coming at us today from various social media channels and news sources that for us to be impressed really takes a lot. Our attention span has dwindled, and the scene of Jesus’ birth could easily be overlooked. Once God grasps our attention a struggle with the notion of worthiness can ensue. Yet, this is precisely what is revealed for us in the birth of Christ.
We are all worthy of the good news that is born for us this Christmas. We celebrate it time and time again because we need the reminder of Christ born into this world. Knowing that God knows what it is like to be human, encountering struggles and challenges that come with living, is reassuring. The struggles and challenges of the past year have brought life to a standstill for many of us. As the church we are attempting to be innovative in sharing the Good News this Christmas Eve while ensuring that those we love are kept safe. Regardless of how we come to the manger, Christ is the same as he was yesterday, today, and tomorrow.
While we celebrate the birth this evening, we are also being invited into the greater story.
Mary, Joseph, and the Shepherds all said yes to the glorious news that broke into the world in that miraculous birth. We are invited to say yes to Christ that comes into the world bearing hope and good news for all. It is here that God’s love for the world is fully envisioned. May our hearts, minds, and souls be open to the invitation and embrace the opportunities that this evening reveals.
We find ourselves this evening, as we do every Christmas Eve, reflecting on a newborn baby. Despite any fear that may arise from the unknown, let us go with hurried anticipation like those shepherds did over two thousand years ago. Let us give thanks and rejoice in the glory of the Messiah born on Christmas to bring God’s outpouring of love and hope to this broken world.