While Shepherds Washed Their Socks
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable to you, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer.”
“While Shepherds Washed Their Socks”
As you can tell, this morning we’re going to visit the manger one more time. Traditionally, Jan 6th is Epiphany - day of visit of Wise Men. So we’re not really running to late. I think it’s important that we take one more visit to the stable before we try to put Christmas away for another year. Notice I said TRY to put Christmas away.
I don’t really think we CAN put it away. Christmas meets us and greets us every day because the infant of the manger grew to be a man who WAS and IS our Savior.
In last couple weeks, more people asked about this Sermon Title than any other. In his book, Faith, Hope and Hilarity, Dick Van Dyke tells of a little girl who informed her mother that the birth of Christ was announced by angels “while shepherds washed their socks at night.” That’s where the title comes from.
When I first read that I just thought it was funny. But the more I thought about it, the more it became a parable of sorts. In her limited understanding of what she thought she heard, this little girl actually hit upon a great truth. Whether it was while they were watching their flocks or washing their socks, the shepherds were visited by an angel who brought Good News. That Good News of Jesus broke in upon the ordinariness of everyday life. This morning I want us to go with them to the manger, because God continues to break into and enter into the ordinariness of our every day lives. And that is what keeps Christmas alive in our hearts.
I. GOD ENTERS IN:
A. One of things marks this time of year is POST HOLIDAY DEPRESSION. Whether from: Let down of season;
Disappointment that didn’t get what really wanted;
Wake up after party, and all promises of Christmas and things still the same or seem the same;
Or just natural slow down of life after what seemed like the terminal busy-ness of the season.
We all experience a little of the Post Christmas Blues.
The wonderful Good News of Christmas is that God stepped out of heaven, wrapped all that God is in flesh and blood, stepped into a manger and became one of us. God entered the ordinary in a very extraordinary way. God, in Christ Jesus, entered the ordinariness of our everyday life.
B. In the book Do Yourself a Favor: Love Your Wife, there is a story about a certain little boy who was asked what his father did. The boy said, “He watches.”
“You mean that he is a night watchman?”
“Oh, no,” the little boy exclaimed, “He just watches.”
“Well, what does he watch?”
“I don’t know if I can tell you everything,” the boy continued, “but I can name a few things.”
“Well, tell me,” the now curious man replied.
“He watches TV, he watches Mom do the housework, he watches for the paper boy, he watches the weather, and I think he watches girls, too,” he said with an impish grin on his face.
“He watches the stock market, football games, all the sports, he watches Mother spank us, and he watches us do our homework. He watches us leave to go to church and PTA and shopping. He watches Mom write letters and me play with my dog. He watches Mom pay the bills. With a touch of sadness he concluded, “But mainly,he just watches.” (2)
The Good News is God is not just a watcher. God is with us. Not out there somewhere. Not just watching. God is with us in all the toil and turmoil, joy and laughter of the ordinary.
II. GOD MEETS US WHERE WE ARE:
A. Not only does God enter the ordinary but GOD MEETS US WHERE WE ARE IN LIFE.
I couldn’t help laughing when I read about the tourist visiting a castle in Scotland. Red faced and out of breath, he told the owner that he had just seen the family ghost in an upstairs corridor. “Did it give you a start?” the lord of the castle asked.
“To tell you the truth,” said the tourist, “I didn’t need one.”
That may have been how the shepherds reacted. One angel would have been startling enough. But a whole host of angels would have scared the whey out of anyone. But fright wasn’t the intent. Notice the angel says, “Do not be afraid, I bring GOOD News.” God met the shepherds with the message of the Savior’s birth. God went to them through the Angel, and met them where they were in life. God met them in their own life’s situations and stage.
B. The same is true today. God meets us where we are in life. Whether it’s in a field watching sheep or washing socks doesn’t matter. God enters into our lives and meets us where we are:
It could be in a hospital emergency room mending a broken arm; Or a delivery room holding your first child;
at the kitchen table pulling out a splinter or discussing family finances;
Or at a funeral home grieving a friend or loved one;
It could even be in a class room praying for the answers to the test you should have studied for.
The Good News is that God enters into our lives and meets us where we are. God’s assuring presence can be felt wherever we are.
C. A few years ago I stopped by to visit a woman who’s husband had died and whose funeral I’d held about two weeks before. It was one of those dark, drizzly days. I wasn’t sure if Emma was home. The house was dark and all closed up; all the blinds and curtains were drawn. Rang the doorbell, nothing, knocked and then heard a quiet voice say, I’ll be with you in a minute.
Emma finally came to the door, and as I walk walked down the hall to the living room, I couldn’t help but notice the whole house was dark. It was all sealed up like a tomb.
We sat down and went through all the first few minutes of formalities. And then Emma burst out with, “Is the resurrection real?”
I answered, “Yes.”
She in turn asked, “Well, how do you know?”
We talked about the passages of scripture that dealt with the resurrection. We talked about those where Jesus foretold his own resurrection and told us of the promise of the resurrection. We talked about how we had to accept it on faith. It was all very Biblical and theologically correct. I would have gotten great marks back in seminary. But I could tell it wasn’t getting through.
With a deep sigh Emma said, “I want a sign.”
I told her the only sign I knew of was the empty tomb. Emma said, “That’s not enough. I want more than that.”
As we talked the rain had been coming down harder and harder. It had gotten even darker. The day seemed to match our moods. I was depressed I’d come to help and didn’t do a very good job.
Before I left, we prayed and I prayed for a sign for Emma. Something to ease her grief and to help her know the truth of the resurrection. As I walked down the hall, I felt sort of useless because I hadn’t been able to reach her.
When I opened the door, the first thing I noticed was that it had stopped raining and the sun was starting to peak out of the clouds. The sky off in the east was still dark and stormy but the western sky was beginning to lighten up. About the same time that I heard the door close, I looked up. And I immediately turned around and rang the doorbell.
The door opened and I took Emma’s hand, I pulled her outside and pointed. We both stood there in stunned silence as we looked at one of the most beautiful rainbows I have ever seen. It was a surface to surface full rainbow. The colors were brilliant. Emma started crying. And then she started laughing. She looked at me and through her tears and laughter said, He’s alive.“
She hugged me, ran inside and started opening curtains and blinds.
God is not a watcher. The Good News is that God enters into our lives and meets us where we are. God enters the ordinary. God may not enter your life as dramatically as Emma’s but God’s reassuring presence can be felt wherever you are.
It may come on one of those days when you’re having doubts about your abilities and a colleague calls to express appreciation of a job well done. It might be an unexpected letter or something as simple as blankets piled under a tree. But these are all the hand of God entering into the ordinary and lifting us up.
Our challenge is to see life through the eyes of faith and to hear with the heart of love so we don’t miss those moments. The Good News is God is with us, God enters the ordinary, God meets us where we are. And that makes the ordinary extraordinary, even if it is just washing socks.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. (Doubleday & Co., Inc. Garden City, New York, 1970) p. 70
2. Scott Morton, ”The Best-Kept Secrets of Family Life,“” Discipleship Journal, Issue 77, 1993, pp. 103-104
3. From FREED FROM FEAR a sermon in Dynamic Preaching, April -June
1994, Seven Worlds Publishing.