Preached on December 24, 2014 at Northwood Presbyterian Church
What do you know about the shepherds? What have you heard?
Were shepherds poor or rich? Were they young, or old? Were they men or women? Were they well respected, or were they lower on the social ladder?
Shepherds were poor. Their work was a day to day sort of work where they were always dependent on the needs and desires of wealthy landowners.
Shepherds were young, mostly.
Shepherds were young men, but they were also young women.
Most important to know and reflect upon this day is that shepherds were not well respected in society. They were considered dirty and untrustworthy. In fact, the testimony of a shepherd was inadmissible in court because it was considered unreliable. Shepherds were nearly invisible members of society. The lowest of the low. Untouchables. This week I learned “To buy wool, milk or a kid from a shepherd was forbidden on the assumption that it would be stolen property” I wonder who the modern day shepherds would be in our society. Migrant farm workers? Mentally ill homeless people? Refugees? Vagrants? Prisoners?
The shepherds speak to me this Christmas because I see them there, and I know what they mean to this story. I know that God came to the world wrapped up as a tiny baby in the midst of these shepherds for a reason and purpose. Shepherds might not have been able to serve as witnesses in court, but they were witnesses to the greatest act of love the world has ever known.
More than this, they are the ones that actually receive the good news. Luke tells us that it’s to the shepherds that the angel says “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah,the Lord.” It gives me chills to think about who the angel is speaking to when the angel says this. To you is born this day.
We are blessed in this sanctuary with the soft glow of candlelight and the cozy comfort of companionship. As we sing carols and celebrate the birth of our savior together, we feel that God has done something amazing in this world.
Yet the shepherds remind us of an important fact that we must never forget: Jesus was not born in here. Jesus was born out there. The angel brings the good news to those who are the least worthy to receive it, to society’s forgotten bottom rung, to the least of the least.
It is my prayer that this is a message of hope and solace for those of us who are gathered here, as we think of those who are out there in some way. There are people we know who are lost and wandering and not with us in these pews. We trust that the angel brings the good news to them just as it brought the good news to the shepherds out in the fields.
For those who are in prison or homeless or marginalized in some way, we trust that this good news is heard, loud and clear. For us, too, when we feel like outsiders, when we feel like we are the lowest of the low, the least understood, the least worthy, this message is for us.
I wonder if the shepherds trusted much in God. I suspect that they might not have trusted much in God at all because they were not welcome in the synagogue or among the religious elite. They were invisible people. Yet God breaks through all of that, and talks to them through the angel.
What if this is you, today? What if you don’t feel like God speaks to you at all? What if you don’t normally come to church because it doesn’t seem like there is a message for you? What if God decides to speak to you anyway? What if it doesn’t feel like Christmas in your home or in your life or in your heart and somehow in some kind of way out there God speaks to you with a voice that is loud and clear?
It’s an unbelievable message really. It’s startling and shocking. It can not be dressed up or dressed down and the message is this: Jesus Christ is born to us where we need him most.
And so I invite you, I invite all of us, as we come to the table and light candles and sing carols to open our hearts and listen to how Jesus Christ is being born in our lives and in our world, right where we need him most.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, the Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer of us all, Amen.