Angels and Shepherds, Oh my! (5:30 pm)
It’s no great surprise that we’d have an angel in tonight’s story. Angels are those spiritual beings who God created and often act as messengers. Ultimately that’s their service — to deliver messages on behalf of God.
So on a night as holy as this — the birth of our God into the world, of course an angel would come and deliver the message.
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:
What a wonderful message to be able to deliver: great joy for everyone.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes life can wear me down, and news of great joy would definitely be welcomed.
Although I do have to admit, I’m not sure I’d be ready to receive it if an angel of God appeared in front of me right now.
Actually, maybe there are some angels in front of me — right at this very moment. What do you think? Are there any angels here tonight?
If it isn’t a surprise to have angels on this night, maybe the surprise is to have shepherds.
Shepherds weren’t the most refined members of society. Working in harsh conditions, their skin would have been weathered. They would have been educated only in their trade. They wouldn’t have been anything close to the vision of the angels that we had above.
Yet, in some ways they had the most important job in biblical history: the tending of sheep and goats — the most important domestic animals of the day. Not only that, but some of the great biblical characters were shepherds: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David.
A good shepherd was caring, and strong.
I wondered earlier if we have any shepherds here tonight. Who here is caring and strong?
Imagine for a moment, your place in this story that we’ve read tonight. For see, we aren’t just casual observers in this story. I think we are both angels and shepherds. Actually I know that each Sunday, this space is full of shepherds and angels.
We have strong and caring people: people who work tirelessly to ensure that people have fresh food at a low cost through our Good Food Box; people who reach out and call each other when someone is in need — even when the person doing the calling is struggling in their own lives; people who gather monthly to make sure the seniors in our part of this great city have some time of fellowship together, and a healthy meal to nourish their bodies through the Senior’s lunch.
We have people who share God’s word with the world: people who help us worship with the residents of Tansley Woods, people who help our children learn about the story of God’s love for the whole world, people who quietly share their faith in the community — not by preaching grand statements of faith, but by volunteering in many ways; people who try to bring some joy to those running the Chilly Half marathon by offering them oranges and bananas as they run by and raise much needed funds for our hospital.
And honestly, I know that those caring, strong, sharing people are out in our community too — and I hope and pray that you’re one of those people.
See, without the caring, strong and sharing people, this story of Jesus’ birth just becomes the story of the birth of any baby — which is miraculous enough — but what makes the story come alive today — what has kept the story going for thousands of years — what has spread the story to every continent is people like you — and people like me.
And here we gather: around this manger — to hear the story again — to be reminded again the part we have to play in this epic tale.
And here we gather each Sunday: around this altar — to remember God’s love for us — to be reminded again that the story didn’t end a couple of thousand years ago.
So, welcome home everyone. Come back each year and remember that you’re caring, strong and sharing people. Come back each Sunday and remember that God loves you and the whole world. For those are some of the greatest gifts we can get this Christmas: to find our place in the world, and to remember that we have an active role to play in making the world a better place.
For that we give thanks to God.