Sermon: Shepherds in Bethlehem

Shepherds in Bethlehem
Luke 2:8-14
RUMC 24 Dec 2017
Pastor Paul R. O’Neil

Charlie Brown in his Christmas cartoon has the blues. He bought a tree, directed a play, but still could not get into the Christmas spirit.  He just mopes around and is depressed.  Finally he blurts out, “Is there anyone who knows what Christmas is all about?” Linus, the one who sucked his thumb and carried a blue blanket over his shoulder replied, “Sure Charlie Brown, I can tell you what Christmas is all about.”  He walks to the center of a stage and says, “Lights please.”   Then he quotes Luke 2:8-14.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 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: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”

Maybe some of you can identify with Charlie Brown and also question the meaning of Christmas. In the end Charlie Brown discovered that the Christmas spirit was not found in lights and trees, gifts and special treats or drama productions, although that is a big part of it.  However it is about finding the Christ child who later grew up to be our Savior.

Christmas is the time when we hear the special Bible verses about the birth of Jesus, we see Nativity scenes on display, and we have warm thoughts about the characters who surrounded the baby in the manger. On this Christmas Eve night, I would like to focus on the shepherds who were such a big part of what took place so long ago.

Shepherds were an interesting group of men. They spent most of their time outdoors, and for the most part were crude in appearance and harsh in their colorful language.  Since they were constantly on the move to find new pasture for their flocks, they were often looked upon with suspicion.  If anything was stolen or found missing, shepherds were to blame.  And because of their rough manners, most people avoided them.  Using present day vernacular, some would consider shepherds borderline social outcasts.

Shepherds were not the most religious people. Their work prevented them from worship.  While everyone else made sacrifices in the temple or said prayers in the synagogue, shepherds were outside with their flocks.  And because of their unrefined lifestyle, they were looked upon with disdain.

However of all the people who might hear the angelic announcement and witness the child first-hand in the manger, it was the shepherds who were chosen. And that speaks volumes.

I can imagine the commotion the group of these men caused when they went into town, waking people up, asking for directions and telling the stories of what happened out in the fields. I’m sure they were laughed at, ridiculed and accused of drinking too much wine.  But these men were rewarded when they saw the babe face to face.

Here is an important spiritual principle. God reveals himself to those who are humble enough to receive him.  It happened then and it is still true today.

Now step back for a moment. Imagine if you were God and wanted to announce the most incredible event ever.  Who would you announce it to?  Who would you invite?

Earlier the press secretary at Buckingham Palace announced that Prince William and his wife Kate, Duchess of Cambridge, are expecting their third child in April. If all goes according to plan, that child will probably be christened or baptized at the Royal Chapel at St. James Palace like the other children of this famous family.  Before this takes place special invitations will go out to the dignitaries of both British society and the diplomatic community.  It is highly unlikely that a person outside of this exclusive social group would receive an invitation.

In a reversal of values, the birth of God’s Son was not announced to the elite of Jewish society or the religious community, but the lowly shepherds.  When God reveals himself, it is very much the same thing. It is to those who are sincere and humble of heart, those who desire to have a relationship with the Lord.

Going back to Charlie Brown, after Linus quoted the scripture, he walked off stage and said, “That is what Christmas is all about Charlie Brown.” Charlie Brown put on his hat, went outside and looked up at all the stars.  Then a voice spoke. “And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host, praising God and saying, glory to God in the highest and on earth peace goodwill to all.” Charlie Brown then said with a bit of optimism, “Linus was right; I won’t let all this commercialism ruin my Christmas.” And he walked away, content. After that his friends surprised him with a decorated tree. With a transformation in his heart, Charlie Brown could now see the beauty of Christmas.

When we have a personal encounter with the Lord it forever changes our lives, just as it did with the shepherds and millions of those down through the ages who decided to believe.

Let me close with this poem.

Christmas is not about gifts and toys.
It is the time when people rejoice.
Christmas is not about food and drinks.
It is not about this world as everyone thinks.
Christmas is about everlasting love.
It is thanking the Lord for what we all have.
Christmas is about sharing and family.
It is about Christ who loves us fully.

Prayer: Holy God, heaven and earth are met this night in the newborn child, the Savior of the world.  We do celebrate his birth; for in him you come to be close to us, that we might be close to you.  We would ask that your Holy Spirit may be born anew in our hearts and that we may joyfully welcome him to reign over us.  Open our ears that we may hear again the angelic chorus of old.  Open our lips that we too may sing with uplifted hearts.   Send O lord into the darkness of this trouble world, the light of your Son.  Let the star of your hope touch the minds of this community with the bright beams of mercy and truth.  We especially remember those family members who are sick and cannot get out.  We ask you would comfort them this night.