Sermon for Christmas Eve (11:00) – With the Shepherds
With the Shepherds
Christmas Eve; December 24, 2019 (11:00 service)
Why shepherds? Okay, it surprises me that after so many years of hearing this story, there are still aspects of it that get my attention for the first time. This year it’s that question: why shepherds? And a major part of the answer may be that they’re the only folks out in the countryside in the middle of the night.
But I want to see more to it than that, especially when we think of the angels singing for shepherds in contrast with Isaiah’s audience (Isaiah 9:2-7). Isaiah’s poem about a child is probably about the Crown Prince of Judah and his audience is probably the royal family, first, and then the entire Kingdom of Judah. Lo, the angel of the Lord (or is his name Harold?) talks not to a royal family and an entire kingdom but to a bunch of shepherds in the hill country of Judea.
Shepherds have a noble lineage, so you would think they were well thought of; you would be wrong. After all, all the Patriarchs were shepherds; King David was a shepherd; and the prophets (especially Jeremiah and Ezekiel) refer to the government as the shepherds of God’s people. But about the time Jesus was born, shepherds were not highly regarded. Given the nature of their work, they could not keep the niceties of the ceremonial law. They were rough and uneducated. In other words, they were working class.
Yet the angel of the Lord – Lo, or Harold, or whatever his name was – appeared to them and said, “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” This is good news of great joy for all people, but first of all for a bunch of working-class men. These men, after they got over their terror at having seen an angel, decided to go check it out, so they ran to Bethlehem to find this baby. And when they got there, they told Mary and Joseph and anyone else they encountered, including – I imagine – random strangers on the street. And which random strangers are likely to be out in the middle of the night?
I find myself wondering if the good news of great joy that we have to tell is still for all people, beginning with working people, folks who are likely to miss the niceties of social behavior because they are out tending to their work in the middle of the night. Consider all the people who are working right now, while we’re here. There are physicians, nurses, and other staff in emergency rooms; police and firefighters; convenience store clerks. If it were storming, there would be city road crews out. The story of Jesus is good news of great joy not only for us here in the church house but also – maybe especially – for working people, doing the 2019 equivalent of keeping watch over their flock by night.
With the shepherds, let’s make known what has been told us about this child.
Robert A. Keefer
Presbyterian Church of the Master