Advent: The Shepherds
December 13, 2020
This morning I want to start with this scenario. Imagine you’ve got good news that needs to be shared. Like, I mean great news. Maybe it’s an engagement, that you’re expecting a child, maybe you got into the college of your choice, or maybe it’s a new job or big promotion. Whatever it might be, think back to a moment when you had great news to share. Now, who do you share it with first? Chances are you’ll share it first with the ones you’re closest to, the ones who love you and who you love most. Your spouse, your kids, maybe a best friend. From there maybe you’ll share it with your church, your neighbors, your co-workers, the teachers and families your kids go to school with, and of course, maybe the simplest thing to do is to tell everyone at once on Facebook or Instagram. And from there maybe you’ll go so far as to tell a stranger or two, should you even care to tell them at all.
At the heart of the Christmas is a grand announcement. It’s a story about God bringing good news of great joy for all the people – that born in Bethlehem that day was Jesus himself, Savior, Messiah and Lord. And yet, in another unexpected twist in the Christmas story the ones who are the first to learn about Jesus’s birth just happen to be a group of ordinary, unsuspecting shepherds. Blue collar, working class sheep herders. This grand announcement is for whatever reason shared with them first. Not the rich and famous, not the kings and queens, not the religious elite or temple priests, or simply the well connected who can get the word out faster than most. Nope. Once again, it’s a detail we’d least expect. Shepherds are the first to know.
This morning, we continue on with our Advent sermon series that we started a couple weeks ago, where we are ever so slowly, making our way through the Christmas story, paying particular attention to some of the key characters within it, folks like Mary and Joseph, the shepherds and wise men. And now this morning, we move to the second half of the Christmas story, where having looked at some of the stories and moments leading up to his birth, we now find ourselves with one of the very first stories after Jesus’s birth, as the shepherds, to their great surprise, receive this good news, this divine birth announcement in the middle of the night.
So with all that said, seeing from the eyes and perspective of the shepherds, I want us to see three things in our passage today, three things about this good news that Jesus came to bring.
The first thing I want us to see. This is good news for all. Good news for everybody.
In fact that seems to be a key aspect of the angel’s announcement to the shepherds:
“I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people”
For years and years, the Israelites we’re waiting for a Messiah, someone who would fulfill all of the promises and prophesies of the Old Testament Scriptures, someone who could be all that they we’re not, who could live the life they never lived, who could repair and restore the broken relationship between God and humankind. This was believed to be Israel’s Messiah and good news for the people of Israel.
But yet, here the angel is proclaiming this is good news for all people, not just Israel’s. And by giving this message first to the shepherds of all people, it tells us even more about who this good news is for.
Shepherds in Jesus’s day were not a popular bunch. They were considered social misfits and religious outcasts. Given the nature of their work, working long hours out in the fields, wrangling and herding sheep, they were considered unclean and not able to participate in temple worship like everyone else. They lived in obscurity, on the margins, somewhat unseen, and at best, just absolutely ordinary.
And here’s the angel, sharing this good news with them, telling them that this good news is for them.
Do you see what this means? It means that this good news is for the guy working the night shift at Town Pump. It’s for the migrant worker who works in obscurity but yet we reap from their labors every day. It’s for the elderly widow who’s feeling bored and lonely, feeling stuck in their house the last nine months. It’s for the family who’s wondering if they’ll be able to make rent next month and have to keep using food stamps. It’s for the jaded man or woman who’s had bad experiences at church in the past and not sure if they ever want to come back. It’s good news for all people. For the struggling and wandering, the hurting and heartbroken. It’s good news for you and good news for me.
And we see this truth not only in the shepherds, who this good news is given to, but yet also through some of the specific details we’re given about Jesus’s birth.
When the shepherds are told about this Jesus being born their told this about what they’ll find -
“you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
That is, Jesus, born as a baby, was born in absolute weakness and humility.
It says he was wrapped in swaddling cloths. Think about that, the Son of God is born so ordinary and so weak that he, like every other baby ever, needed swaddling cloths to be put to sleep, he needed to have his arms pinned to his side so he could sleep in comfort and security. And even more, born in humility too. Born in a manger, that is, a feeding trough. That’s right, a feeding trough meant for animals served as our Savior’s bed.
He was that weak, that ordinary, born in poverty and humility, found a crew of motley and smelly shepherds. That’s the Savior we serve, that’s the savior we worship and if that is how came to this earth and if that is who learned of this news first, then that means this good news is good news for all.
That’s the first thing I want us to see. This is good news for all people.
Here’s the next thing I want us to see and that is what this good news actually is. Like, what is this good news exactly and how is it good news for you and me?
Well it’s this, and that is, that Jesus’s birth brings us peace, both peace in general, but yet more specifically peace with God.
And here we’re connecting the dots on a couple of things that are said by the angels
Where at the heart of this good news is this announcement, is as the angel says, that born that day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. He’s the one
And yet a couple verses later, we’re told this. All of a sudden more angels come onto the scene, where it’s as if the shepherds are being treated to this private concert led by the angels, as they sing:
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
Here’s the phrase I want to hone in on – “On earth, peace among those whom he favors.” Now in our translation, this phrase is a little clunky, where it seems to communicate that if you’re good enough, you’ll make it on God’s favorites list, which will then bring peace.
Instead, I think a better understanding of this phrase, when taken into its larger context, is that Jesus’s arrival makes it possible and is an invitation for all people to find peace, and even more, peace with God. And by peace, here we’re not so much talking about the absence of conflict, rather peace in terms of rest and identity and security.
You see in so many ways, the search and longing for and finding of peace is one of our heart’s greatest desires and central to our relationship with God himself.
And left to ourselves, we’re always bound to be in this desperate struggle to find it. Years ago, in an article from Vanity Fair, Madonna, yes, Madonna, was quoted saying this. She says,
‘All of my life has always been to conquer some horrible feeling of inadequacy. I’m always struggling with that fear … My drive in life is from this horrible fear of being mediocre. And that’s always pushing me. Because even though I’ve become somebody, I still have to prove that I’m somebody. My struggle has never ended and it probably never will.‘
Wow, so honest and so vulnerable, and yet so heartbreaking. Here is a woman who had and has it all – fame and fortune – but yet no peace.
And her words capture what so many of us feel – this deep sense of inadequacy – whether in our relationships or in our work, or with what we have or haven’t accomplished at any point in our life, or in our standing before God.
In fact, the shepherds seem to feel this inadequacy in the beginning of our passage when it says that the glory of the Lord shone upon them. It says that they were terrified. That is, when they came face to face with the glory and holiness and majesty of the Lord, they felt their deep sense of unworthiness and inadequacy before God.
And so, what do we do with these feelings of inadequacy?
Well, the angel says, look, behold, look at this good news I’m showing you, this good news I’m telling you about. About a baby being born, who is Savior, Messiah and Lord. The angels are declaring that peace can be found, that peace is possible. And yet not because of our own doing, but rather all through Jesus. That through him our sins are forgiven, through him we are reconciled to God, through him we are given new life. And in fact, he came for the inadequate, he came for the mediocre, he came for the somebody’s who often feel like nobody’s. And all of this means hope for hopeless, joy for the joyless, peace for the peaceless. That’s good news.
The good news is good news for all and Jesus’s birth brings us peace, both peace in general and peace with God.
Here’s the last thing I want us to see. And this is going to bring us back to the shepherds, and that is with this good news, our job is go and tell.
After the angel visited them, after the other angels gathered around for what must have been the most incredible private concert under the starry skies, the shepherds look around at one another and essentially say to themselves, “This is the greatest news ever! What are we waiting for? Let’s go!”
And so it says, 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child;
You can see what they did. They went on their way and shared what God had made known to them. They spread the word and became the first evangelists, the first missionaries of the Christian era. 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.
That was their response, and Jesus desires for it to be our response too. To go and tell.
So friends, how might we be able to share the good news of great joy for all the people this Christmas season? I know anytime we get anywhere near the word evangelism we can sometimes panic a little bit and think “No way, that’s not for me.” And I get that, sometimes that kind of stuff makes me nervous too. Maybe it’s simply starting with non-Christians that you know and trust and simply sharing personal stories and personal experiences, such as “Here’s what God has been teaching me through a difficult 2020” or “Here’s where I’ve seen God at work during a challenging year.” Sure people can get defensive or squeamish if we throw too much bible and theology on them at once, but gosh it’s hard to be offended or turned off by a personal story or experience. So that might be one possible way to go and tell and share the good news.
And yet, here’s one more. It’s simple, it’s timely and it’s pretty low risk. And it has to do with Christmas Eve. As you may have already heard, we’re doing Christmas Eve a little bit differently this year, where we’re going to celebrate it in person a few days early, and by the way, any and all are welcome to join us that night, and then having recorded that service, we’ll play it “live” on the night of Christmas Eve, December 24th.
So here’s the challenge, here’s the encouragement to you all. What if we all invited one other person, one other household or family to watch that night, whether it be extended family, a neighbor, a co-worker, another family your kid goes to school with, could be anyone. What if we all invited one other person to watch on Facebook Live that night? Even more, as a way of enhancing the Christmas Eve experience, we want to provide each and every person and family watching from home that night, including the folks you all invite, a Christmas Eve Worship Kit, think of it like a church worship gift bag of sorts, filled with not only song lyrics and candles for Silent Night, but also fun Christmas goodies and things to bring all the more Christmas cheer. And if the person you want to invite isn’t the Facebook Live type, we’ll be on the radio as well.
Friends, how cool that would be, all over this town people joining us for Christmas Eve from afar, maybe hearing about the good news of Jesus possibly for the first time? Think about the opportunity – what if we had more people watching on Facebook Live on Christmas Eve than could ever possibly fit in this here sanctuary? What if this different looking Christmas Eve was actually an incredible opportunity to share some good news with all people?
A couple weeks ago Gallup released a poll based on a recent survey designed to gauge people’s mental health and trends over this past year. You won’t be surprised to hear this, but in just about every single category, just about every single demographic, no matter how you slice the data, the average person’s mental health is worse than the year before.
And it’s with that backdrop that you and I can bring good news. After all, in a bad news world, we as followers of Jesus are good news people. So let’s go share that good news. About how it’s good news for all, and how this story of Jesus’s birth brings us peace and most importantly, peace with God himself.