Dear Friends, grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
In comparison to the usual crowd gathered in church on Christmas Eve, the congregation gathered on the hillside overlooking the little town of Bethlehem was a sympathetic and captive audience. They weren’t expecting to be entertained or inspired. There were only a handful of shepherds to witness the wonder and mystery of that holy night. They were the ancient world’s forgotten men and boys; life’s misbegotten shepherds. They slept beneath the stars with worn and tattered blankets. They warmed themselves by smoky fires. Across the burning embers they watched their wandering companions – the sheep and the lambs. They were workers who knew their place. They lived in the neglected corners, and were unnoticed by most neighbors. They weren’t mistreated. Simply said, nobody thought about them. They themselves had no dreams or illusions of life being anything more. And yet, the shepherds observed more of the mystery of that holy night in Bethlehem than all the princes and priests in Jerusalem.
When the angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, the shepherds were terrified. The wondrous news of the birth of the Messiah, a guest wrapped in linen lying in a manger, and the astonishing proclamation of peace on earth stirred the shepherds. They went to Bethlehem to see for themselves what had come to pass. And when they saw Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus lying in the manger, they made known what had been told them. They had been transformed from shepherds into messengers. And whoever heard their story was amazed at what the shepherds told them- and nobody more than Mary and pondered them in her heart.
The story of the shepherds and the angels, you see, reminds us that it is God’s intent for you to enjoy the wonder of our Savior’s nativity and then to be changed by his birth. Our Lord doesn’t expect you to be silent and stoic and piously religious. In the Gospel of Saint Luke, the evangelist invites you to go tell it on the mountains and share the joy of Christmas with others. My friends, together with the words of a dear friend and poet, Betty Westrum Skold, let me offer you a reverie of poetry and word for this Third Day of Christmas. For it is my hope as well that you should share this good news.
You and I, we have all been called to be angelic messengers, but some of us are rather reluctant shepherds. Yes, you know the word of the Christmas angel, but you’re a little sheepish about sharing the word with others. You don’t consider yourself a worthy messenger. You know the music of the heavenly chorus, but you’re not quite sure of singing a solo.
Perhaps, you think that you don’t have the gift or skill set God needs for a messenger. Consider the words of Betty Skold in a poem entitled, “I’m a Fixture.”
At church I’m a kind of fixture, Lord, a part of the permanent installation, like the pew racks, or the candelabra, or the stained glass.
If a sign-up sheet is passed around, my name is on it.
If a meeting is called, I have a tendency to show up.
Through the years I have taken my turn as Bible study leader and clean-up chairman.
At bazaar time they’ve learned I can’t do stitchery or macramé or hand-thrown pottery,
But I can arrive a little late toting four loaves of Swedish rye, big and irregular and steaming with old-fashioned fragrance.
They’re used to me around the church, Lord, but I don’t cause much of a stir.
My life story seems colorless, a record of unspectacular sinning and gentle forgiveness and a quiet resolve to mend my ways.
A part of me dreams of being a swift-footed messenger, surprising somebody (anybody with some prophetic lightning bolt.
But remind me, Lord, that I’m not the star attraction. You are.
Remind me my life story isn’t the one that needs telling. Yours is.
The shepherds who had witnessed the glory of heaven, didn’t mistake their tale for the message of the angels. They knew that the story that needed telling was the good news of Jesus. Certainly, their story was colored by the appearance of the heavenly host, but they knew that most important word was simply, “A Savior is born.” My friends, “Do not be afraid to tell it. God has already provided you with gift and relationship he needs.
Or perhaps, you feel that you’re a little out of touch. Somebody else can do the proclaiming better than you can- a neighbor, the Sunday School teacher, or the pastor. After all, that’s what he’s paid to do. You’re a bit anxious. It all seems so long ago and you may have forgotten a few of the details. Listen to the words of a poem entitled, “The Grandchildren Are Coming.”
They’re on their way, Lord. Freeway 94, Highway 7, County Road 18, All roads lead to Granny’s.
There are gingersnaps in my cookie can and stubby crayons in the box.
Now it’s time to set things up high-toothpaste and razor blades and heirloom vases.
I’ll put things out of reach. It’s easier than saying no.
But keep me within reach, Lord. I’m unbreakable. I don’t belong up high.
Remind me to stoop down.
Make me available for touching and hugging and reading stories.
Slow down my clock, Lord. I’ll take time for their “help.”
I’ll tie big aprons under their armpits. I’ll wash their hands and stand them on a kitchen chair and let them punch bread dough. They’re almost here, Lord. Make me ready.
My friends, “Do not be afraid.” God is preparing you even now to tell the story. It is your privilege.
Or perhaps, you feel you need little a push. We all need a bit of incentive. The distractions of the seasons, and the colorful sideshows of Christmas often hinder the messenger’s path. Betty Skold writes:
I think I could use an angel, Lord.
Not one to guard my sleep. My sleep is in good shape.
I need and angel like those in the Bible, the ones who said, “Get a move on.”
To Peter in jail the angel said, “Rise quickly!” To Joseph in a dream, “Go Quickly!’
To Philip, “Arise and go.”
A siren voice from somewhere else coaxes me, “Take it easy. Prop up your feet.
Plop the recliner down. Urgency is no big deal.”
Send me an angel, God, an angel who will hand me a parking ticket.
Send me an angel who will shake me awake, pull me to my feet, and tell me, “Get going.”
The shepherds of Bethlehem didn’t need a little push. They weren’t struggling to make this “the best Christmas ever.” That night in Bethlehem was the best Christmas ever, and all others have paled in comparison. And along the way the shepherds became messengers. Of course, no one would have confused these dusty country folk with the angelic host. But the shepherds knew that something was different.
That is the miracle of Christmas. On that wondrous night, God came with power to change the weak and lowly into a heavenly band of messengers. And Mary treasured these words, and pondered them in her heart. She did not know all that was to come, but she knew the love of God would be present with her.
My friends, we do not know what the future holds any more than Mary did. Like the blessed mother, we ponder, we treasure God’s love and we smile at the witness of the awkward shepherds that came to tell those lodging in the stable that their baby was the Messiah and Savior of the world. Mary pondered all the things that she had heard, and didn’t know what to do with them all. Messiah, King of Kings, Savior, the most high and so many more things that took place. But she did remember the name. The Angel had told her the name for her baby was first conceived, and she knew what to do with that. According to Jewish tradition that baby was circumcised on the eighth day and then given his name: Jesus which means “the one who save.”
May that holy name of Jesus be your blessing and guide as we close out this eventful year and look with hope to the year ahead. And may we like the reluctant shepherds go tell it on the mountains and share that good news of Jesus with every one we meet. Amen.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen