The Shepherds and the Angels
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “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. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
~ Luke 2:8-20 (NRSV)
This morning, the angels and the shepherd lead us a little closer on our journey to Bethlehem. So let’s take a little look at what they taught us along the way. Scripture says, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them.”
One of the things I love about this story is that it is about ordinary people going about their daily lives when suddenly they are caught up in something amazing! Now, there was nothing special about the shepherds, yet God steps in, filling them with joy and changing their lives forever. The spiritual writer Stephen Mitchell once described a holy joy as “something so large, that it is no longer inside of you, but you are inside of it.” That’s how I always imagine the shepherds in the fields that night, suddenly caught up in this amazingly huge joy. It is like the veil of heaven was lifted and these mortals, these human beings, were able to see and hear the angels rejoicing all around them. Can you imagine?
Well, through the Christmas story, God gives us, as human beings, the opportunity to share in God’s joy, not because we deserve it, but because that’s the way God is. Like grace, we can never earn joy, we simply need to choose to receive it. And that is just what the shepherds did. The shepherds made the choice, to be a part of God’s joy.
Then Scripture says: “And they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy for all people.’” Really? The shepherds were afraid? A group of rough and tumble cowboys that fought off wild animals in the night? Afraid? Friends, of course they were afraid. I’m sure they were terrified! They were probably so afraid; that they wanted to run and hide. But the choice that they made that night, was to not let feelings of fear control them. Instead, they let God be in control, and that is not always easy is it?
Scripture tells us that the angels invite the shepherds to go and see for themselves. They said, “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” So, the angels told the shepherds how to do it. They gave the directions by pointing the shepherds to Bethlehem, and they told them that they would know that it was the right baby when they see him wrapped in cloths and lying in a feeding trough for animals. They would know that he was the one, Emmanuel, meaning “God with us.”
Now, at this point, the shepherds have another choice. We tend to think that the shepherds heard what the angels said, and without thought, ran to find the baby in the manger. But if we think about it a little bit more, that would have been very risky. You see, the shepherds were outcasts. They were not often welcomed in towns, and people would have questioned why they were there and why they were searching for a baby that they had never met before. The shepherds could have convinced each other that this was just a wild dream and that they should just go back to sleep. Or they could sweep it under the rug and promise each other they would never say a word about it to anybody. After all, people might question their sanity if they were following the instructions of the angels. But the shepherds chose to risk it, and they went to see for themselves. Remember? “When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’”
My friends, God is always inviting each of us to come to see for ourselves and to experience faith in our own lives. So, I wonder, what is God inviting you to come and see or to go and do this morning? Maybe there is a step God has been inviting you to take? Perhaps it is to forgive someone? Or to take a new direction in your life? Maybe it is to get involved in something new here at the church? Or to make a difference out in our community? Whatever the invitation is, I want you to know that saying “yes” to God, always brings us joy, even if what God is asking us to do is difficult. Because God’s desire for you is also your deepest joy. Did you hear that? God’s desire for you, is also your deepest joy.
Friends, the Christmas story itself is about ordinary people caught up inside this big amazing thing God is doing. But they all have the choice, just like us, whether to say “yes” and take part in God’s redemption of the world or not. And when they say “yes,” not only do they become a part of God’s big amazing joy, but their individual lives are changed and fulfilled as well.
But friends, there is one more piece to this puzzle that is really important to understand. You see, when we become a part of God’s big amazing joy, it’s no longer about us; it’s about God. As human beings, many times we do things to get the credit. We want people to tell us that we are doing a great job and that we’re important. We want our names in lights and the recognition and respect of others. And that’s okay in the business world, or in the political world, or in other competitive circles. But when it comes to our faith, and when it comes to being a part of God’s big amazing joy, it’s not about us.
Just think about today’s story. There were shepherds in the fields watching their flocks by night. Do you know any of their names? Do you know which ones led the way to Bethlehem, or which ones needed a little more encouragement to join in? No! Because there was no “I” in the shepherds that night. They focused not on themselves or who would get the credit, but instead on the amazing things that were happening around them. And the same is true of the angels. There was a heavenly host of angels that night, hundreds of them, if not more. And we are not told what their names were or why they were a part of the group. Again, there was no “I” in the angels that night, because the focus was not on them individually but on the message and the joy that they were sharing.
And folks, the same is true for what is happening here in Oldtown. We are all a part of this amazing faith community, and we all have our own gifts and passions to share. Friends, there is no “I” in Oldtown, because it takes all of us working and giving and sharing and singing and worshiping and praying together. Because when together we focus on our faith and the call that God has placed in our hearts instead of our need for individual attention and praise, then we truly experience the great amazing joy that God has for us.
So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, listen to the angels, and do not be afraid. Know that God is with you each step of the way and then choose to be part of something so large that it is not about you or inside of you but that you are inside of it. Friends, my prayer for each of you this week is that whatever you choose to do that you’ll let go of your feelings of fear and allow God to be in control, so that you might be filled to overflowing with God’s big amazing joy!
May it be so, thanks be to God, Amen!