4:30 p.m. Service - December 24, 2018 - Christmas I
(c) 2018 Evan D. Garner
What do you want to be when you grow up? A doctor? Lawyer? Teacher? Athlete? Mother? Father? Priest? Who wants to be a shepherd? Why wouldn't you want to be a shepherd? Have you ever been so smelly, so dirty that even taking a bath didn't get you clean? What about lice? Ever had to stay home from school because you had head lice? (Don't raise your hand for that.) What about money--how much do you think a shepherd gets paid? And work schedule--what sort of social life do you think a shepherd has?
For all of those reasons, few people grow up wanting to be shepherds, and that was as true in Jesus' day as it is now. No one wanted to be a shepherd. They were born into it or couldn't find another way to make a living. They weren't necessarily bad people, although later rabbinic traditions associate shepherds with thieves, but they weren't glamorous. They weren't important. They weren't special.
But on Christmas night, a long time ago, when Mary gave birth to Jesus and wrapped him in bands of cloths and put him in a manger--in a feeding trough--who were the people that the angel went to tell? The shepherds! The angel said to them, "Do not fear for I bring you good news of great joy which shall be for all people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord." God's greatest gift comes into the world, and God shares it with shepherds. Why?
Maybe it's because God had a special place in God's heart for shepherds. Several times in the Bible, we read paradoxically that the Almighty One cares for us like a shepherd. Maybe it's because David was a shepherd, and Jesus, as his descendant, was laid in a feeding trough, was supposed to be seen as the one who will shepherd God's people. That might be right, but I think it's also something else. I think the shepherds help us understand the real miracle of Christmas.
We live in a world in which good people usually get good things and bad people usually get bad things. In many of our homes, that's what Santa Claus and Christmas are all about. The great and mythical present-giver has two lists: naughty and nice. And those on the naughty list get switches and ashes or perhaps lumps of coal, while those on the nice list get wonderful toys. But that isn't how God's Christmas gift works.
God's gift of God's Son is given not to the good people but to all of us--bad people, too. In the birth of Jesus, God takes upon God's self human nature--not just the good parts but the whole thing in order that all that is broken, tarnished, or fragile might be made whole and right and strong. The shepherds remind us that the miracle of Christmas is not reserved for the rich, the powerful, the impressive, or the religious. It is given to all of us--to all of humanity. If God had revealed this miracle to princes and priests, the rest of us may never have heard of it or, when we did, we might have heard them tell us that, in order to receive this gift, we must become like them--strong, powerful, and perfect. But that's the opposite of the Christmas message, and the shepherds remind us of that.
Who wants to be a shepherd? Yeah, me neither. But I rejoice that God's good news at Christmas comes to each and every one of us, no matter who we are, no matter how we behave, no matter where we live, no matter what. That's good news, and I thank God for giving us the shepherds so that we can see it.