December 24, 2014 – Christmas I
© 2014 Evan D. Garner
Audio of this sermon can be heard here.
When something big happens in your life, who is the first person you call to share that news with? When you land a big account or get an exciting promotion, when the publisher accepts your manuscript or the pregnancy test shows two pink lines instead of one, who is the first person you call? What about when something doesn’t go well—when you have a run-in with your boss or get bad news from your doctor, when you wreck your car or drop your cell phone into the toilet—who is the first person you call …or, well, not call since your phone is broken? In premarital counseling, I call that person your “go-to person,” and I explain to couples that your go-to person says a lot about you and about the important relationships in your life.
For most people, the process of falling in love and getting engaged and being married involves letting go of one go-to person in favor of another—typically one’s future spouse. And, in most relationships, that process is gradual and natural. As I get closer and closer to the one I love, the distance between me and whoever else I had relied on as the first person to whom I would turn when something substantial occurs begins to stretch and lengthen. Pretty soon, without even realizing it, when I have good news to share, I’m not calling my mom or dad or my sister or brother or my best friend anymore. I’m picking up the phone and calling my beloved. That is the person with whom I want to share the initial experience and celebration. She is the one to whom my heart belongs. Her joy is my joy. My tears are her tears. We walk through life together.
Of course, sometimes it doesn’t work like that. Sometimes the person we are letting go of isn’t happy about being replaced, and I tell couples that if that particular someone starts acting out in unhealthy ways—perhaps inviting herself to go on your honeymoon or redecorating your house without asking—you may need some professional help navigating that transition. There’s a Seinfeld episode about that very thing, one in which Jerry’s new girlfriend and her stepmother are fighting over who should be #1 on their respective speed dials, but that’s a struggle that shows up in real life, too, because, whether you’re the one sharing the news or you’re the one receiving the phone call, it feels good to be loved like that. It feels good to be someone else’s go-to person.
Tonight, we are here to celebrate God doing something really big in the history of the world. Tonight, we remember how God became flesh, how God sent his Son into the world, how, in the birth of Jesus, God offered salvation to us all. This is the birth of the King of Kings. This is the arrival of the Prince of Peace. This is the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord. And do you know with whom God chose to share that good news? A bunch of lowly shepherds, who were in a nearby field, keeping watch over their flock.
Think about that for a moment: God is bringing about the greatest moment in the history of the universe, and he chooses to tell some guys whose job it was to make sure that the sheep didn’t wander off too far. God didn’t inform the emperor or the governor or even the local magistrate. God didn’t send his angels to alert the priests or the Pharisees or the scribes. God didn’t share the good news with prophets or sages. In worldly terms, he didn’t tell anyone who counted for anything. Instead, the first people God told about the savior’s birth were some young, shabby, probably illiterate, certainly flea-ridden shepherds.
What sort of go-to group of people is that? By any reasonable standard, this was a backwards communication strategy. Why would God “waste” the good news of the most important moment in human history on a bunch of shepherds who had no status in their community and to whom no one would listen anyway? Why are they God’s go-to people? Why did God share this news with them? Because how else would God show the world that Christmas is about salvation coming to ordinary people like you and me?
In the birth of Jesus Christ, everything is backwards. God the infinite and almighty comes as a tiny, helpless infant. All that is holy and perfect is united to everything plain and broken. The king of all creation is born not in a palace but in a barn, where he is laid in a manger. And all of that upside-down strangeness represents the true transformation of Christmas. On this holy night, we celebrate how God has taken upon himself all that is ordinary and plain and simple and human in order to make it shine with the beautiful light of God’s glory. The gift that came down at Christmas means salvation not for the exceptional or for the deserving or for the rich or for the holy or for the powerful but for regular, normal, ordinary folk like us.
“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: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.’”
God entrusts the good news of this upside-down, earth-shattering event not to princely heralds but to poor shepherd boys. And why? Because they are ordinary people like you and me. They are God’s go-to people because we are God’s go-to people. We are God’s beloved. We are the ones with whom God yearns to share this good news. We are the ones to whom God’s heart belongs. In the birth of Jesus, we discover that God’s joy is our joy—that our tears are his tears. We are alone no more. God is with us. God is with all of us. And that good news is meant specifically for you. Amen.