Summary: God came for EVERYONE!
Now the scripture I read this morning may have sounded just a little different, some of the words may not be words you’re used to hearing. This particular passage was read from the King James version instead of our usual NRSV. The KJV has very pretty language but is often hard to understand. But for this passage of scripture, no other version sounds quite right to me.
This passage is one of the most familiar to people at Christmastime. Even people who have never cracked a Bible in their life have heard it many times, especially if they watch the Charlie Brown Christmas special every year. That is one of the highlights of the show when Linus, on a darkened stage, explains to Charlie Brown the true meaning of Christmas by reciting the story of the shepherds and the birth of Jesus.
It is a passage extremely familiar to all of us. And, as a result, we read it casually, like a paper or magazine article. When we have scripture that we are so familiar with, we need to look deeper to find those spiritual treasures God has hidden for us. We need to slow down and really read these words. Then read them again. And then read them again.
Read vss. 8-9
Elaborate on the shepherds, about how they were considered unclean physically and spiritually. About how shepherds were not high on the social scale; theirs was a lowly occupation, and they weren’t highly educated. They were homeless wanderers. And they were well down the social ladder. They were likely hard men, callused, rough, tough, certainly dirty and likely uncouth. They were religious outcasts. According to Jewish religious law, these men were unclean. Their line of work prevented them from participating in the feasts and holy days that made up the Jewish religious calendar.
What does it take to terrify a group of tough guys? These were men who had to defend their sheep against all types of predators, 4-legged AND 2-legged. They lived with their sheep, rescuing them from dangerous places. They had no fear. But in this case, all it took was the glory of the Lord. This angel shows up, and these tough guys are scared to death!
Read vss. 10-14
What did the angel say? Look closely. The angel did not say, “Hey guys. I’ve got some bad news. You’re really in trouble now. You guys are a bunch of dirty, smelly losers. And God’s not going to put up with you anymore.” NO! The angel said,
“I bring YOU good tidings of great joy which shall be to ALL people.”
“For unto YOU is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
“And this shall be a sign unto YOU..”
The angel’s message to the shepherds was that this baby is YOUR Savior, YOUR King, YOUR Christ, YOUR gift – straight from God. Not just for kings. Not just for the elite people. Not just for the ceremonially clean. Not just for the celebrities. But for ALL people. That means shepherds, too!
Read vss. 15-20
We see no recording of who goes, no arguing about who will stay and watch the sheep. “No, Achmed, I’ve got seniority. I’m going to see this baby.” “But, Haji, I’ve got a vacation day left and I’m going to take it to go and see this for myself.”
They didn’t seek out the religious “experts” for a second opinion. There is no discussion about how they’re going to find the Christ child in the crowded town. It says, “And they came with haste…”
“And when they had seen it, they made known abroad..” “And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.” Can’t you just hear the people who are told these things by the shepherds, given the shepherds’ reputation? They’re going, “Yeah, right. Those shepherds! Can’t believe a word they say. They’re by themselves so much they’re seeing things and talking to themselves and making up stories.”
But what is the most priceless, spiritual treasure in this story? It’s the most obvious feature of the story. Who does God announce the birth of His Son to? Who does he invite to come and see the new baby? A bunch of unclean, no account, lowlife sheepherders! There is only one announcement of Christ’s birth recorded in the Scriptures, only one invitation from God to anyone to visit Mary and Joseph and the baby Jesus. And that one invitation goes to a bunch of uneducated, social and religious outcasts, a bunch of shepherds. God didn’t appear to the self-righteous religious leaders, to the kings, or to the “celebrities” of that day. He appeared to humble men, in a despised profession, on a dark hillside.