Billy D Strayhorn
 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!"
There’s an old story about the church in a small community which had held a Christmas pageant for 47 years with the same director. For years the church's pageant ran like clockwork. Mrs. Williams was a perfectionist and perfection was her goal, nothing less. Perfect lines, perfect pacing, perfect everything. The problem was the director’s commitment to perfection was greater than her commitment to children. Her reasoning was: "When there are too many youngsters, there is no control."
However, the church had been growing. Younger and younger families were joining which meant more and more children. More and more children meant more and more children who weren’t in the Christmas Pageant. The Committee on Education (which included three mothers of last year's rejected Marys, Josephs, shepherds and Wise Men) made a policy change: "All children who wish to be in the Christmas pageant may do so. Parts will be found for them." Well, that was more than long-time director could handle. She resigned in anger and disgust.
Although the old director and some of the members felt the pageant would fall flat on its face, it didn’t. However it WAS different.
There must have been a dozen shepherds and 20 angels (a real heavenly host). There were a couple of dozen sheep. And these boys and girls must have studied their parts well, because on the night of the production, just like real sheep, they wandered all over the church.
When Mary and Joseph entered. Mary was clutching a doll wrapped in a blue blanket. Joseph walked solemnly beside her. The narrator was supposed to read the biblical story about Joseph going to Bethlehem " . . . to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child." One of the young mothers realized the children could not understand the English of the King James Version about Mary being great with child, so she switched to the Good News translation.
So, as Mary and Joseph entered, the narrator read, "Joseph went to register with Mary, who was promised in marriage to him. She was pregnant." As that last word echoed through the sound system, little Joseph froze in his tracks. He gave Mary an incredulous look, then looked out at the congregation. "Pregnant? What do you mean, pregnant?" he asked.
Of course, the whole place cracked up. The pastor's wife, wiping tears from her eyes, said, "You know, that may well be what Joseph actually said." The former director had a smug look which said "I-told-you-so."
But when Silent Night was sung, a couple of magical things happened. First, the sheep bleated their way down a side aisle and sat in the pews to watch the conclusion of the pageant and the former director was surrounded by the very children whom she had excluded!
Second, through the windows people could see that snow began to fall, and the entire church became very quiet. It wasn't planned but for a short time no one moved, including the sheep. Then, one of the elderly women, who was hard of hearing and always speaking too loudly, broke the spell when she "whispered" to her husband in a voice all could hear, "Perfect! Just perfect!"
And it was. It wasn't perfect in production. But it was perfect in the way God makes things perfect, the way God accepts our fumbling attempts at love and fairness and then covers them with grace. That night WAS a night of confusion. No one knew what the script was supposed to be. That night of Christ’s birth was filled with the unexpected. Like the very first to know being the Shepherds.
Let’s look at Luke 2:8-14 and then we’ll talk about how unexpected the Shepherds really were.
So what role do these unexpected guests play other than to fill parts for a pageant? And Is There Room For Shepherds Today?
I. SHEPHERDS TEACH US HUMILITY:
A. The very first thing which Shepherds Teach Us is Humility. You see Shepherds were some of the poorest of the poor. Their livelihood was vital to the economy. The wool and meat from the sheep was essential. And yet like so many of the people involved in essential services today, they were looked down upon. They were like the trashmen or sanitation workers or the cleanup crews at the ball park. Nobody ever took the time to get to know them. And because their job smelled, most people thought they did, too.
Like smarmy used car salesman or sleazy Televangelist today, in that time, Shepherds were only a rung or two above lepers in the social pecking order. They were looked upon as untrustworthy and thought of more like we think of gypsies or the “travelers.”
And worst of all, they were unclean. It was just a blanket statement about all shepherds, no matter how faithful or how deeply committed to serving God they were. They were unclean by virtue of the job they performed. You see, touching any kind of dung, even just stepping in it accidentally, made you unclean.
And shepherds couldn’t help but step in it every now and then. Even if they didn’t, the sheep they herded had and touching them, which shepherds had to do, made them unclean. So, shepherds were the outcasts, the untouchables, the people no one but other shepherds wanted to be around.
B. You might be asking yourself “What difference does that make?” From the moment of Jesus’ birth, God proclaimed the Good News of Salvation for everyone, no matter what place or station in life. God chose the last in society, the Shepherds, to be the first to know. God actually practiced what Jesus would preach. “The last shall be first and the first last.”
The shepherds were also ready to hear some good news. They were ready for hope. But if you read about Herod and his palace staff, they were all suspicious and afraid. All they could think about was what they had to protect. They saw the birth of this baby as a threat to their power, authority, position, wealth and even their way of life. That is the reaction of Pride.
But the shepherds, on the other hand, they didn't have much of anything at all, just the few family possessions they needed for daily life, just the basics. What they needed most was hope and faith. When they received that message of hope, they dropped everything to see this new born baby lying in a manger. They rejoiced and they couldn’t wait to tell anyone who would listen. That is the action of Humility. Shepherds Teach Us Humility.
II. SHEPHERDS TEACH US TO RISK:
A. Secondly, Shepherds Teach Us To Risk. Most of us are quite contented where we are spiritually. We like where we are. It feels good. We feel close to God. We feel safe. It’s comfortable. Unfortunately, faith isn’t about comfort. And certainly walking with Christ isn’t supposed to be comfortable, not when He says things like, “Take up your cross and follow me.” I don’t think he was talking about jewelry either.
I’m pretty sure Jesus was talking about a lifestyle where we become more and more like Christ. That’s what Wesley called going on to Perfection and a life of Sanctification. If we are seeking to become more like Christ, the we WILL take risks. And we’ll look at the Shepherds of the world with different eyes.
B. A number of years ago, we hosted a Missionary who was serving in New Mexico and working with the Native Americans. He related that in the sheep country of New Mexico, the shepherds were having trouble with losing lambs in the late winter and early spring.
It seems the ewes would take their lambs out to graze, and late in the day it would start to snow. The temperature would drop, and the ewes would continue grazing. The lambs would lie down on the frozen ground and before long would freeze to death. The shepherds got together to discuss the problem. They determined that the ewes, covered with wool, didn't feel the temperature change.
The shepherds came up with a rather unique solution. They took shears and sheared just the top of the head of the ewes. The ewes could feel the change in the weather, and head back to the barn. That solution saved many of the lambs.
Sometimes our hearts get all warm and woolly. It's not wrong; we like that warm fuzzy feeling, and we get comfortable with it. But maybe, we get a bit too comfortable, too contented with our good fortune and the blessings of life. And when that happen we get to a point that we can't feel what others are feeling. We’re so comfortable that we don’t want to risk changing anything.
However, when we don’t take any risks in our faith journey, then we risk losing our way and we risk losing our relationship.
The Holy Spirit needs to shear our hearts of some of that wool so that we too can feel the hurts and the pains and the needs of those around us. We need the Holy Spirit to shear the wool of our hearts so we can see the Shepherds in our midst and risk acknowledging them. We need the Holy Spirit to shear the wool of our hearts so we can feel and see who needs a word of hope and a reason to rejoice.
Shepherds Teach Us To Risk.
I think the challenge for us this season is to See the Shepherds in our midst. We have plenty of shepherds in the world today. Unfortunately as a society, we have become blind to them. We walk past them and pretend we don't even see them.
We ignore their presence and their signs of "will work for food."
We see them haul the garbage and toss it on the truck but never know their names.
We call them to clean out our septic tanks but don’t want them in the house.
They are the silent nameless migrant workers who bend over to pick our lettuce, onions and other vegetables, always looking over their shoulders for fear of the immigration officials, all the while simply trying to make a better future for their families just like us.
We see them behind bars and think good riddance and never consider how we might help them. Yet these are the Shepherds of today. The outcasts, the lepers.
In our pride we overlook them. In our comfort we ignore them. But these are the folks to whom the message of the birth of Christ Jesus, the Savior, came first. There IS Room For Them Today because we still need to be challenged to Live Humbly and take Risks for the Kingdom of God.
Celebrate the birth of Christ by doing something for the Shepherds of this world.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
Other References Consulted