Characters of Christmas: Shepherds – Sunday December 17, 2023

Scripture: Luke 2:8-20

My brain thinks in song and sound.

Like, when I drive past or walk up to a courthouse I sometimes, unconsciously, start singing in my head, the Law and Order theme song.


And when I read our scripture today, I hear and see it in my head a certain way. It’s a specific voice, with a particular quality, timbre, and cadence. I hear, Linus from A Charlie Brown Christmas. With his hat and jacket on, standing next to a small, sad little Christmas tree while holding his blanket. In his child’s voice, he slowly, clearly, and peacefully quotes Luke 2:8-14 and explains to Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about. It is such a heartwarming scene, and while the passage is peaceful and joyful, those words are also revolutionary. The people with whom God chose to connect, with whom God communicated, how God entered the world, was truly revolutionary.


With Linus narrating, I’m lulled into a cozy vision of lights, angels, joy, and peace. But then I stop and think, what if I were the shepherds? What if that happened to you or me today? I mean, we’re not so different from the shepherds. They were just regular folk going about their job. Let’s say you leave work late, it gets dark at 5pm so it wouldn’t even have to be too late, or you work the night shift. When suddenly you see an angel and bright light shining, lighting up everything around you. How would you feel? What would you do? Scripture reads that the shepherds were terrified. In Greek it very literally means, they feared with great fear. Amen, shepherds. Me too. I would probably duck and cover or fall down. Then the angel speaks, “Do not be afraid,” thats just what something spooky and terrifying would say, but I would probably keep listening. And imagine that the angel continues, telling you to that the messiah has been born and to go to a barn where this baby messiah is in a feeding trough wrapped in strips of cloth. Finally, more angels appear in the light, sing praise, and then leave.


If I am honest with myself, I do not know if I would run with haste to find this child in a feeding trough. I might think I had a dream, that I passed out, hit my head, or any number of things. But the shepherds, they believed. They somehow understood what was going on, they went with haste and found Mary, Joseph, and the infant Christ. Not only did they encounter the infant Christ and become a part of the greatest story ever told, but they shared their good news as well. And in that sharing, they gave Mary and Joseph a gift of awe and wonder, of peace and glory. A gift that Mary would ponder and treasure in her heart. God chose these regular ordinary folk, going about a regular work night to be messengers of God’s love and grace. The Shepherds teach us that God can and does work extraordinary things, through ordinary people, in surprisingly ordinary ways.


Ordinary people.

Shepherds. Not priests. Not a governor. Not a senator or a general or a member of Roman authority. Shepherds. Normal people just doing their job like they did probably every night before that. “In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” It was probably just another night for them, nothing special about it, until God chose them. It is so easy for us us to think we are unworthy, or maybe not unworthy but we think, God could never work through me, God couldn’t be wanting to reach out to me. But scripture tells us a different story. Whether it is Mary, a teenage girl from podunk, middle of nowhere Nazareth, or the shepherds, the story of Christmas is a story about God choosing ordinary, regular folk. Not the religious elite or Roman elite, not the rich and powerful, not in capitals or temples, but ordinary people in fields and small towns.


Surprisingly ordinary ways.

Now, you might be thinking, pastor, if you are calling the shining glory of God and a multitude of heavenly hosts ordinary, you need to rethink your definition of ordinary. And yes, part of the story involves things I could in no way call ordinary. Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, they all have dramatic visions or encounters with angels. The shepherds, probably have the most dramatic encounter with angels and singing and lights. But what were the shepherds doing? Were they making an offering at the temple in Jerusalem? Were they at their local synagogue? Were they in the middle of sabbath worship? No, they were at work. They were just going about their night, tending the sheep, watching out for thieves, bandits, and wild animals. Not what we might think of as a particularly reverent time or holy place, but God brought the holy to them. Plus, what was the sign the shepherds were told to look for? The angels announced things but the angels themselves were not the sign that the Messiah had been born. What was the sign? A baby, swaddled in strips of cloth, and lying in a feeding trough. Not in a palace on a bed of gold. Not with a crown on, surrounded by servants. Not even in the temple with priests and offerings. The sign was a baby, away in a manger.

God works extraordinary things through ordinary people. Then, shepherds. Today? Teachers, farmers, lawyers, construction workers, retirees, managers, receptionists, nurses, substitutes, musicians, assistants, interns, students.


In surprisingly ordinary ways. Then, in the middle of a field and a baby in a manger. Today? The nudge you get to text or call someone. That person you see at lunch sitting alone day after day. A kid on a playground. A neighbor out picking up tree branches in their yard. Someone struggling with groceries. A friend. A family member.


God’s contact with us is not bound to a specific place, building, or time. God chooses us and reaches out to us, anytime and anywhere. God works extraordinary things, through ordinary people, in surprisingly ordinary ways. This week, dare to believe that God wants you, chooses you, reaches out to you. This week, dare to trust that the greatest story ever told is still being told every day, in cities like ours and in families and friend groups like yours. The story didn’t end 2000 years ago; you are a part of it; you are a part of God’s unfolding love. This week, how does God want to work extraordinary things through you? Together all the people say, Amen.

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