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12.21.14 Christ our Joy Luke 2:1-20 Sermon Summary

by on December 22, 2014

From the very beginning, people have had many various responses to the good news of Jesus’ birth. Here are a number to consider this Christmas.

Summary Points

  • Who all was at the birth of Jesus
  • Various responses to the news of Jesus’ birth: Amazement, fear, and others
  • Why God came to Shepherds and an impoverished couple
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

Joy

The birth scene in the Gospel of Luke tells us that, “All who heard what the shepherds said about the child were amazed.” Have you ever wondered who’s in this “all”? I mean, how many could have actually been there?

According to Xmas cards, the authoritative source for too many Christians, the “all” included Mary and Joseph and Jesus, of course, and the Shepherds. There were animals: sheep, goats, rabbits (a foreshadow of Easter?), mice (though none stirring), camels, . . . The Magi were there, along with an assortment of little children. And I’ve even seen depictions of Santa at the birth of Christ.

Were all these amazed? Historically we’re talking only about the Holy Family, at least two shepherds, and perhaps the Innkeeper, but wasn’t he too busy?

Like Christmas cards, I believe Luke is summarizing a larger story in a single scene. The “all” refers not only to the manger scene, but to “all” who will subsequently hear the story—first from the shepherds, then through the Gospel of Luke itself, and finally to us. All of us are called to find the story amazing.

Amazement is one response to the angelic message. The Shepherds’ exemplify other responses as well. The first is fear. Shepherds are fear specialists. They have to be especially sensitive to the fearful. Their job was to protect sheep from everything from natural predators to thieves to hazardous terrain. That Luke sets the angel’s appearance at “night” is suggestive of the context of fear—our sense of fear is a little more heightened at night.

And we have things we’re afraid of. We fear terrorist attacks—across the borders, in movie theaters. We’re afraid of identity theft. The bad economy causes us to fear being upside down on our house or not having enough in retirement. We’re afraid for the wellbeing of aging parents or young children (or both!).

The human condition of perpetual fear is suggested, I believe, with the first words out of the angel’s mouth: “Do not be afraid.” But how are we not to be afraid? The angel explains—by seeing: “For see—I am bringing good news.”

But what are we to “see”? The angel continues—that in the city of David (which “city” would have had perhaps 300 inhabitants) they would discover the “sign, a baby in a manger.” This is what the angel made known to the Shepherds—shepherds of all people!

Shepherds were ordinary folks, doing overlooked labor. Working at night, they were taken for granted. They were not powerful or influential or people of means. But as they worked their routines, they were open. Since they were the ones available, the angel came to them.

How appropriate, since Jesus was born in a barn, in the parking garage of grand hotels where people who planned ahead and could pay were spending the night. Mary laid him in a feeding trough, with half-eaten straw and dirt and animal spit, amidst the stench of manure.

We would never expect that God would come to us in such a place, because we overlook, even avoid, God’s presence among the despised and discarded. We forget that God is found among the poor and the outcast.

The reason God is there among shepherds and in the manger, is because, in reality, that’s where all of us are to be found. Strip away our luck and our hard work, add our manipulations and conniving and working the system and we have to admit that we are, in fact, nothing more than day-laboring, paycheck-to-paycheck shepherds. Just getting by. Faking it. Hoping we are not caught. Unworthy of such attention as the good news of the angel.

And that’s what makes it good news, because it comes to such as shepherds, through such as Jesus, to such as us. And if we will be honest about who we are, if we will be honest about our fears, our doubts, our confusion, our falling short of what God intends for us, about our sin, we will rise up like the shepherds, and go to see what has been proclaimed to us as good news.

This is what we are to see: that God is present even to shepherds, even in the darkness of night, even to unwed mothers, even in impoverished circumstances. It’s an invitation to look at things differently, through eyes of faith, faith that God is present in every situation. It doesn’t change the situation, but it changes our response to it. No longer need we be afraid.

I wonder if the Shepherds thought of Psalm 80, where God himself is the Shepherd of Israel but also the one who is also the mighty Deliverer. Whatever their thinking, the Shepherds overcame their fear, saying to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that the Lord has made known to us.” Afterward they tell the story about the angelic message; they return “glorifying and praising God.”

Now their story is Luke’s story, and the audience today is each of us. How will we respond? Amazement, fear, going to see, praising God, telling the story—these are all appropriate responses. In these final days of Advent, let us follow the Shepherds’ example, and welcome the good news of great joy for all people with amazement, action, praise, and sharing.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • It’s commonplace to recognize praise, thanksgiving, and joy as appropriate responses to the good news of Christ’s birth, but what about fear? Is there any trace of fear in your response to this news? Why might be behind that?
  • The Shepherds were called to hear and see (see verse 20). They responded by going to see and returning, telling the story. What actions characterize your response to hearing this story?
  • In what ways do you find yourself in company with the Shepherds and the unprivileged mother of Jesus? Or to think of it another way, in what ways would you disqualify yourself from the good news of Jesus?
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2 Comments
  1. Dave permalink

    Awesome message (pun intended). Thank you.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. 01.04.14 Giving out of Gratitude Matthew 2:1-12 Sermon Scraps | Thinking Faith

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