A sermon preached at Southminster Presbyterian Church in Boise, Idaho on Christmas Eve 2012.
The shepherds in this possibly familiar Christmas story are so interesting to me. Because they didn’t sign up to be a part of this. They aren’t religious professionals. They are just people, doing their job, on a hillside.
And then this happens. (Imagine the Hallelujah Chorus starts playing in the midst of a quiet sanctuary….)
An angel of the Lord stands before them and the glory of the Lord shines around them.
And they are told not to be afraid.
Isn’t it cute the way the angels always think they can just show up to talk to mortals as if we wouldn’t be afraid?
Anyhow, the shepherds receive this good news of great joy for ALL the people.
‘to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’
And then the angels sing some more (imagine the Hallelujah Chorus yet again….) and then they go back to heaven, leaving the shepherds, we imagine, gaping up at the clouds.
Luke tells us that after the angels left, the shepherds said to each other, “let’s go see this”.
But I think before that happened, there was another conversation.
The one where one of the shepherds said, “whoa there, cowboy. Let’s slow down and consider this for a minute. We’re just shepherds. We can’t just go traipsing in to some family’s private moment with this crazy angel story.”
And then another shepherd says, “good point. That angel thing was pretty incredible. I always thought angels were just in stories. Didn’t know it could happen to me. Who would believe us? Why would the angels come to us? Nobody listens to shepherds.”
And then the first shepherd says “exactly. We make a pact. We say nothing to nobody. What happens on the hillside stays on the hillside.”
I suspect at this point one of the shepherds stands up and says, “I’m not making that pact. People might not believe me, but we just saw the glory of the Lord, for pete’s sake! They came to US to bring this amazing story. We have to tell it! You can stay here if you want, but I’m going to see what the Lord has made known to us. ”
I’m pretty sure this conversation took place because I see it take place every day,
often in my own head.
We want to tell people the story of how we have seen God, of where the divine busted in to the middle of our boring lives, of how we have experienced grace.
We want to tell the story.
But we don’t trust the reaction we’ll get from the people who hear our testimony. And you know the skeptical shepherds weren’t wrong. You know they went down the hillside to town and told someone at Albertsons what they had seen—and you just know that someone said, “I wish we could pass legislation to keep shepherds from drinking all night on the hillside.”
We want to tell the story. We do. But we doubt our own voice. Who would believe us? We’re not prophets or priests.
But here’s the deal, friends.
If you don’t tell the good news of great joy for all people, then how will the story be told?
And let’s be clear that we don’t go out to tell the good news so we can save people from hell. That is way beyond our pay grade and job description.
The reason we witness to where we have seen God is because it brings other people hope, and it helps them be on the lookout for God’s movement in their own lives.
And if we don’t go out in courage and faith to share when we have seen the love of God, how will the world know about it?
Because a lot of people are out there speaking for God these days. And some of them are saying horrible things—blaming victims of violence for not being faithful enough, claiming that God has abandoned us for our failures, and protesting at the funerals of 6 year olds.
Should we be surprised when people don’t want to come to church? Why would they want to sign their name to such hatred and prejudice?
But we know a different truth. We may not have seen the Glory of God in a fear-inducing way on a hillside just like the shepherds did.
But we do know of a God who is love. We know of a God who loves us so much that a child was born in Bethlehem.
We have experienced grace and life and joy in the care we have given to and received from each other.
We have experienced grace and life and joy in the moments when we have volunteered in the community, seeking to make the world better for all of God’s children.
We know of a God who chose to be born to a family displaced by political events of the world, calling us to engage the political structures to speak up for the people who have no voice.
We know of a God who revealed the Good News first to shepherds who had no social standing or privilege, but trusting that they would be the perfect people to share the good news.
As the angel said, “Brilliant! They won’t be expecting that!”
And if we decide to keep on the hillside what happened on the hillside, then the world will not hear our stories. They won’t know the Good News. They won’t hear about grace. They won’t find reasons to hope when despair creeps in. We can’t hoard our stories of when we have experienced God’s love.
Will all people believe you? No.
Will some of them be skeptical? Yes.
Might you face scorn or derision? Yes.
But you will also be the people who bring Good News of Great Joy to ALL people.
Think about our own lives. I know I am thankful for the people who witnessed to the Good News in my life. For my Sunday School teachers. For the people who cared for me during the difficult times. For the people who taught me the faith and the practices of Christianity. For the people who shared their stories of weakness, grace, and redemption, allowing me to believe that I might have a place here too.
Nobody expected God to trust the Good News to shepherds. It was a brilliant plan, actually.
Because over 2,000 years later, we still gather to tell what had been told the shepherds about this child Jesus.
Because the shepherds overcame their fear, their hesitation, their distrust of their own voices, and came off the hillside to share the good news, we know of God’s saving love for us as seen in a child in Bethlehem.
So, find your voices, friends. Trust that your witness and testimony is important. And then go tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere, Go tell it on the mountain, Jesus Christ is born. This hurting and broken world is in desperate need of some Good News, and you are just the ones to share it.