Posts Tagged ‘Shepherds’

Treasure This 12-24-15

This sermon, for Christmas Eve, comes from the normal Christmas text of Luke 2:1-20.

You can listen to the audio of the sermon here:

You can also follow along with the text of the sermon here:
On this most special of nights, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our newly born Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

Just this past Sunday, we were blessed to have worship led by our young people, as the JR High students as well as the Sunday School students presented worship in a way to celebrate the Christmas season. It was wonderful with various songs and readings. But one of my favorite parts was during the puppet show, put on by the Jr Highers, when they sang a special song for the birth of Jesus…Happy birthday. (pause)
Now perhaps you’ve heard me talk about this before, but in my wife’s family, we have the tradition of singing happy birthday to Jesus when we are together to celebrate Christmas…I’ve also done this same thing during children’s sermons in the past…and it’s a wonderful tradition, because it reminds us of just what we are really celebrating on this day…the birth of Jesus Christ. (pause)
Now, this is of course, one of those rare times when our gospel lesson is the same each and every year…regardless of what year we fall on during the 3 year cycle, the gospel is the same…and because of this…it becomes familiar…so familiar in fact that we could probably all recite it.

In addition, in countless communities and congregations around the world, Christmas pageants happen…and we see all the familiar scenes…Mary and Joseph coming into town…getting turned away at the local Motel 6…ending up in the barn with fluffy sheep and cows and a donkey…an angel shows up…the shepherds arrive…closely followed up by the Wise Men bearing their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh…and in the midst of it all…there’s Mary…treasuring it all in her heart. (pause)

Now don’t get me wrong, I love the Christmas story. I love watching these pageants as generation after generation of our children learn about the birth of Jesus…even if some of the parts are a little inaccurate, it’s still such a vital tradition. But that being said, this year as I started working on this sermon, I found myself thinking a lot about those extra details…those things that have found their way into our collective consciousness of this story…and since my own imagination and experience has the tendency to shove its way in…I got to wondering about just what might have been happening behind the scenes of this wonderful story of Jesus’ birthday. (pause)

I’m sure it comes as no great shock…but when I think about birth, it puts me in mind of the birth of my own kids…because that’s the personal experience that I can draw on…and while I remember a whole lot of details, which I am not going to bore you with…one thing I remember actually occurred about a day and half after my son was born.

We were still in the hospital…and I had actually gone back to work that day…and in the late afternoon, once work was finished, I headed back to the hospital to see my wife and newborn son…and as I walked into the room, I looked at Emily…and man did she look tired…I remember her asking me if I had any other visitors along with me and when I said no she got this look on her face that was a combination of relief and annoyance. I asked her what was wrong and she told me “I am exhausted.” (pause) Understandable right? She had a baby the day before…neither one of us slept well at all that first night, even in the hospital…and then while I was gone to work…visitor after visitor kept showing up so Emily had no chance to rest at all. (pause) It continued to…because I remember our first night at home, a day or two later…and every time Jack blinked I was awake…like any parents, we were frazzled for at least 6 solid months…but during those initial couple of days in the hospital, its fair to say that Emily was certainly the more frazzled of the two of us. (pause)

But what Mary and Joseph? How do you think they fared during this whole deal…Mary especially. Think about her whole situation. She’s a young girl…probably early teens…about the same age as some of our jr high or high school students. She’s engaged to be married…but then gets a visit from an angel who drops a bomb on her that she’s about to get pregnant via God. She’s facing ridicule from her community…she goes into hiding with her cousin for a few months…and now when she comes home and is getting close to having her baby…the government swoops in and demands that she tag along with Joseph to travel from Nazareth in the north to Bethlehem in the south…all for the sole purpose of writing their names down…and get taxed for it.

And since they aren’t the ones doing it…when they final drag themselves into town…they find that every single spot to sleep is filled…and when they finally do get some, rather lousy shelter…low and behold its time for the baby…no diaper bag…no birthing suite…no doctor…no epidural…no crib…and after her labor is done and the baby is born…no simple feat mind you…they lay him in a feed trough.

Sounds wonderful right…but its not over yet…because in the middle of the night…after all of this has happened…a bunch of dirty, stinky shepherds come calling…talking about angels and heavenly proclamations…now…how do you think Mary was feeling at this point? (pause) I don’t know about you…but I can only imagine…she had to have been exhausted…and scared…and confused…the same as any first time mother…but throw all the other variables into the mix…and I would think that she was probably tired…and irritated…to put it mildly. And if it were me in that situation…I’d have told the shepherds to come back in the morning…leave me think heck alone…that’s what I would have done…

But here’s the thing…as I was working with this text…I heard an important reminder…don’t worry about what isn’t found in the scripture…rather…focus on what is there…and amazingly enough…we don’t hear about irritation on the part of Mary…rather…the scripture tells us that Mary hears the words of the shepherds and treasures all these things in her heart…and you know what…its not the only time something like this happens to Mary.

If we fast forward 12 years…we also hear the one story of Jesus during his childhood…when the kids gets lost during Passover and it takes Mary and Joseph days to find him again…and when they do…he’s sitting in the temple having theological discussion with the teachers and priests…and once again…despite the anxiety that we do hear about in that story…once again…Mary treasures these things. (pause)

Now I don’t about you…but Mary seems pretty incredible to be able to put up with all this stuff and not only does she not get upset…but she treasures it…and so I find myself wondering just what is it about this whole deal that is so wonderful…and not only to Mary, though she’s the best example…but to everyone else…to the shepherds who receive the angelic proclamation…and to Joseph as well as everyone else in the house who heard it…and not only that…but to the countless people who have heard this story throughout the past 2000 years and have received it with wonder.

And so I’ll ask once more…just what was it that went on? Well, if we pay really close attention…in one tiny, almost throw away comment we hear that Mary’s son is born.

All speculation and details aside…this baby is born…and so we ask what might the more important question of just what is the big deal about this one birth…one of countless that must have happened on that same day…one of literally billions of births that have occurred within the human race over the ages…what is it about this one that is so important…so earth shattering…what is it that is so different this time around.

These are important questions to ask when we consider the birth of Jesus…and to answer them…we need to take a closer look at the proclamation itself…that good news of great joy that is to all people…Born to you this day…A Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. Three names…all of which would have been familiar to those who heard it all those years ago.

But those three words would have meant something drastically different back then. Keep in mind the Jewish culture…now, when they think about a savior…a deliverer within their scripture…well that would have been Moses…the great deliver who led God’s chosen people out of bondage in Egypt…and no one else in their history has been regarded with such high esteem.

And now let’s add the next layer…The Messiah…or the Christ as we also know him…same word, different translation…but the messiah within their culture, was one who was anointed to be a leader…the great kings of the past…Saul, and David, and Solomon…they were all anointed…chosen by God to lead the people…so now we’ve got a new deliverer…a new savior who would be anointed to lead God’s people out of oppression, and trust me, these people knew oppression having been conquered by empire after empire…even to the point of the current exploitation Mary and Joseph were experiencing that brought them here to Bethlehem in the first place. Certainly this proclamation has vital importance…for this baby would be the one to retake the throne of Israel, anointed to deliver God’s people from oppression.

Earth shattering right? This is what they’ve hoped and prayed for, over countless generations…literally centuries of history…but…there’s….more. For this anointed deliverer…this Savior, this Messiah…is the LORD.

And that’s where this one simple birth…this amazing story…changes everything…because this is not some simple baby…this is God entering into our reality…and choses the lowest possible way to do it…the most powerful being in all of existence, who’s very presence goes beyond our ability to comprehend enters into our reality, born in the dirt, laid in the feed trough…to a virgin ostracized by her culture for breaking the law…announced to shepherds who were the lowest of the low lives. And not only did God become human, but he was born…as a helpless baby…utterly dependent…God’s ultimate power, entering our reality in order to exert that limitless power over that which we are powerless against…the power of sin and death…God’s ultimate power was expressed in and through that which is utterly powerless. (pause)

And I believe that this good news…that God’s power is found within our powerlessness…within our weakness…within our inabilities…that is so earth shatteringly amazing that it overshadows all the darkness that’s going on. For the shepherds, this announcement comes in the middle of the night…God’s light shines in the darkness…for us…here at Christmas…when the days are as short as they can be and the night’s are as long as they can be…we receive this news…and God’s light shines in that darkness.

And for each of us as individuals, facing a hard reality…a reality where there is pain…and there is suffering…and there is loss…and there are those things in our lives and in the world that make no sense and cannot be explained and can only be experienced as darkness…God’s light shines…and so tonight…on this most special of nights may we cling to the promise that in this tiny baby, God enters the world to lead and to save us from that which we are powerless against…I’d say that’s something worth treasuring…wouldn’t you? Amen.


What’s So Significant 12-24-13

This is my sermon from Christmas Eve. It focuses on the typical birth narrative found in Luke 2:1-20. You can listen to the sermon here.

You can follow along with the text of the sermon here. As usual, disregard the indications to pause and the odd punctuation.

Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ…Amen.
Christmas is upon us! Unless your name is Ebenezer Scrooge, this is probably a joyful thing. Many people love Christmas right? It is truly a wonderful time of year. Many people celebrate in different ways, sticking with their own traditions. As I am getting to know you, I’ve started to hear about some of those traditions…and I certainly have a few of my own that happen year after year.
One that really comes to mind is a tradition that I married into. Christmas morning at my wife’s parents house. Before we start opening presents, we say a prayer and we sing happy birthday to Jesus. Now apparently traditions must make an impact because about a few years ago, my son Jack made a comment based on this tradition, and that comment has stuck with me. We’d been talking about Jesus living in our heart and while sitting at the kitchen table, the whole family got started talking about His birthday coming up. Jack stopped eating, looked down at his chest and said “Did you hear that Jesus…on your birthday, you’re gonna get cake.” Kids certainly say the strangest things don’t they? But it is not without a certain truth. After all Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus isn’t it?
The birth of a person, is really pretty important when you stop and think about it isn’t it? After all, if a person isn’t born, they don’t have a life do they? Without a birth, they simply cease to be…or more accurately, they never were…but that being said, how often do we really place importance on someone’s birth?
Think about it for a minute. How many “births” do you really remember or care about?  I can think of two. One of them occurred on January 15th, 2004. The second one on July 26th, 2006.  Can anyone guess who was born on those two days?  (wait for answers).  Yep…my kids, Jack and Ava.
Now, I could go into a long story, recounting every detail of those two days. I remember them well, but if I did, two things would likely happen. One, Emily would roll her eyes at me and probably slug me after the service, and two, many of you would probably also roll your eyes and promptly forget nearly every single detail within about 3 minutes.
Have you ever had someone drone on and on about the birth of their kids? Be honest? Its one of those conversations that you wish you didn’t have to experience isn’t it? Because do you care? Honestly? Probably not.
As I think about the birth of my son and daughter, there are probably about 3 groups of people that really care and really want the details. Emily and I as their parents. Our parents, because I’m told that becoming a grandparent is the greatest thing on earth…and the last one…the doctor, because he got paid for it right?
Its true isn’t it? There are very few births outside of our own family that we really care about.
Considering the apparent lack of enthusiasm that we have regarding the details about someone’s birth, we have to ask the question of just why Luke chose to include it. Look at the other gospels. Mark doesn’t talk about it at all. John simply tells us that the word became flesh. Matthew goes a little farther along, but even he only mentions it in passing…but Luke…he really goes into detail, doesn’t he?
Luke gives us a reference for the time period, telling us that Augustus was the emperor of Rome and Quirinius was governor of Syria. There was a census happening. We see a road trip from Nazareth to Bethlehem on the part of Joseph and Mary. Jesus is born in a barn because the entire town was full. Nearby shepherds get an eyeful of angels and then come running into town to check it out. Honestly, Luke really heaps on the details.
But why? What is so significant about the birth of Jesus? Why start the story here. Not much else seemed to happen before Jesus was 30. Why not gloss over the whole thing like Mark does and start with the important stuff? Does he expect anyone to really remember this humble birth…one of countless babies born that same day. From a historical perspective, people are much more likely to remember Caesar and or the governor.
Additionally, if we look at the importance of the people involved, the information that we receive from Luke in the previous chapter indicates that John the Baptist probably should have been more important. His birth was foretold within the temple and he was born to a priest. Jesus, on the other hand, is foretold only to his mother, a simple girl, engaged to a carpenter. No one of significance.
His birth itself…again, very humble…born in a barn. Now, you may picture in your heads a cozy manger scene. Brightly lit with soft gleaming straw lining the floor…but my friends, I’ve seen a barn in the middle of a winter night…filled with a bunch of animals that have slept there. Its loud…its humid…and it smells like…well…let’s just say it smells pretty bad. (pause) Its nothing special…in fact, its probably about as humble as you can get.
But perhaps this is exactly why Luke chose to include it. God is choosing what seems to be the lowliest circumstances to enter into humanity. This is no simple prophet being born. It is no ordinary person. This is God himself, becoming human…becoming like us to experience life as we do. This is…a very big deal.
We all know who Jesus becomes don’t we? The savior of all mankind. The angel even tells us this. “Born to you this day in the city of David a savior, who is the Messiah.” Certainly, this is significant enough that it needs to be proclaimed to the entire world right? Well yes but…not quite yet.
So who gets the message? Who hears this angelic proclamation? A bunch of shepherds.  A batch of guys, just out doing what they do. Hanging out with their sheep. And they are the first ones to hear about the greatest birth in the history of mankind? Why?  Why them? What was so significant about the shepherds?
Why not send the angels to proclaim this heavenly message in the temple or among the streets of Jerusalem. Certainly the center of the Jewish culture, only 6 miles away from Bethlehem, would have been a better place with better witnesses right? Announce it to the priests, or the Pharisees. Surely it would make more sense for them to witness the Christ child. More people would believe their message. Because they have credibility.
You see, in the Jewish culture, a person’s occupation went a long way in establishing their credibility as a witness. As shepherds, these men would were pretty much the bottom of the barrel. They were considered riff-raff…shady at best. If they were called into court to testify, very few would count their testimony as valid.
But despite that, it’s THESE men that get the message. THESE men…are chosen to hear the good news in a divine fashion. Luke tells us that they are terrified, but yet they go and see. They follow the calling and witness firsthand the newborn messiah.
And then, what do they do? (pause) Luke tells us that they left the manger and made known what they had seen and heard.  They testified. They told the good news of the messiah born in Bethlehem…and all who heard it were amazed.
Right here…in this simple act, we are given an important lesson. The shepherds…simple men…insignificant men were given a call…they answered it, scary as it was for them…they went and saw…they experienced Jesus Christ…God here on Earth…and then they went out and testified about it…telling everyone that they encountered.
So today…consider yourself a shepherd. Here today…you have received the heavenly message. God has entered into humanity…He has taken on flesh and he has done it for you because he loves you. We cannot hear this wonderful message…I mean really hear it…without being changed. As scary as it is…we are called to be a witness to what we have seen and heard.
Regardless of who we are, when we believe in Jesus Christ as our lord and savior…when the Holy Spirit nestles right down within us and gives us that saving faith in Christ…at that moment…we are called to testify to that good news.  The shepherds were simply the first people to do it…and regardless of their insignificance…they followed their calling…Will you?
In a moment we will sing a well-known Christmas song that I believe is very fitting. (sing) Go tell it on the mountain, over the fields and everywhere…Go tell it on the mountain…that Jesus Christ is born…
People of God, this is our calling…it is universal. The good news of Jesus Christ begins again today. It begins with many insignificant details…An insignificant girl…an insignificant birthplace…insignificant witnesses…yet utterly significant results.
Go Tell It On The Mountain…That Jesus Christ Is Born…Amen