• Slider Image

Advent 3 – The Shepherds

Shepherds

Luke 2:8-11, 15-18, 20 Luke 2: 8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9  And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10  And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. .
Luke 2:15  When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16  And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17  And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18  And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 
Luke 2:20  And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. 

Intro:

This year we are preparing for Christmas by looking at the stories of the people around Jesus: Our Advent journey has taken us to Joseph, and John the Baptist… and  today – the Angels and the Shepherds.

But today’s story is a very strange story!

On one side we have God – the Creator of the Universe – the Being beyond All Beings / King of Kings and Lord of Lords / Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise… accompanied by God’s Holy Angles, angelos the messengers of God

And on the other side we have Mary, a young rural girl, and Joseph, a peasant carpenter….. and shepherds…..Shepherds!!!!!!????

Let me pause to tell us something about Shepherds in the time of Jesus:

Shepherds were hired workers who looked after the sheep when they grazed outdoors in the hills. These were the least important people of society – they were men who had no wealth or education / men who smelled like sheep, and the smoke of firewood, and sweat.

In fact Jewish oral law (called the Mishna) describes shepherds as ‘incompetent’…. They were so far down the social order that the Mishna says nobody was obligated to rescue a shepherd who falls into a pit;

This was because they were regarded as people without religion: they lived in the hills with the sheep and were not able to get all the way into town to worship on the Sabbath. Even if they wanted to worship – they would first have needed to go through ritual cleansing. Religious law said that anyone who worked with blood, and the skin of animals was to be regarded as unclean – and shepherds were often involved in the birth of lambs, and the death of those animals that threatened their sheep. And even if they went through the cleansing ceremony – they had to wait seven days before worshipping, and no shepherd could be away from the sheep for a whole week.

On top of this: Shepherds were also regarded as dishonest because they were often found grazing their sheep on land that was not theirs.  They were therefore deprived of their civil rights and could not be trusted to be a witness in a court of law.

So the shepherds just reconciled themselves to living life as unclean  sinners of society.

And we are told that the God of all creation sends his angels…. To shepherds!!!

  • Men who are so insignificant that the Bible does not even give their names, or their clan, or their nationality.
  • Men who were thought to irreligious and beyond the reach of God.

This is just weird!

Surely Almighty God would want to communicate with people of real significance.

Surely if the Awesome God of all Eternity wanted to announce something important to earth

– such a God would send Angels to an Emperor, or a powerful KING,

–  or to the High Priest of the temple, or to a very important religious leader.

Because this is the way the world works. Powerful people send their messengers to powerful people. But we are told that God sends his angels to shepherds. So the question remains – Why shepherds? I believe it is because this is crucial to the message God is wanting our world to hear.

God sends the angels to speak to a world that is obsessed with status. This was a world where Kings only spoke to Kings; where the educated only spoke to the educated; and where the righteous of God would never speak to anyone who was unrighteous. In fact the temple had ‘religious bouncers’ at the door to screen people out of the temple. Those who had paid their temple taxes, and who were regarded as righteous were let in. The unrighteous were kept out – and this included shepherds.

God Almighty – the Holy God of the Righteous – steps into this world and announces that he comes into our world not just for the religious, and the educated, and the important…. But also for shepherds!

Here is the truth of Jesus: God is the God of all people…..in fact God reaches out to the rejects of society first – in order to show that no one is excluded from the love of God.

And so the angels come to the shepherds.

In this we find both Good News – and a Challenge:

The Good News is for anyone who might feel like a “Shepherd”…for anyone who feels unloved, and unimportant, and useless.

If you feel discarded by society, and rejected by your friends and family – the story of Christmas reminds us that God sends his angels to people just like you. God makes a special effort to find the forgotten people and to speak words of love to them.

Remember that the angels did not change the social standing of the shepherds. They remained shepherds: but the angels changed the way they looked at themselves: they were filled with joy. Before, they were just outcasts on a hillside, but after hearing from God they returned to the hillside changed people. They were now filled with joy, love and peace.

Following Jesus is not going to magically make us rich, or important, or famous,  but we will discover a God who stands alongside us in our difficulties: we discover a God who gives us a joy that is bigger than status, power or wealth.

Here is the invitation this Christmas: to discover that God loves us – even when we feel like a shepherd!

The Challenge in this story is the reminder that ours is a faith of the shepherds: a faith that recognises the people on the margins of society.

I want to speak particularly to those of us who are religious. Beware of the temptation to think of ourselves as better than other people: to look down on people who we think are like the shepherds:

  • a young unmarried girl gets pregnant, or someone in our community makes a mistake – and we frown on such people from our superior spirituality;
  • someone does not share the same theological or biblical view as ourselves – and we feel the need to point out how wrong they are
  • Even worse when someone has a different religion – we think that our religion is superior and we insult people of other faiths (right now many Christians treat Muslim people just like the outcast shepherds of Jesus day)

And so we become religious busybodies, needing to point out who is in, and who is out of God’s favour:  It is as if we do not trust the Holy Spirit to convict people of the truth. And so we must harass people on God’s behalf.

Remember – the Christmas shepherds challenge us to be willing to stand alongside shepherds – and not to feel superior!

In Conclusion: Let us receive the message of Jesus with joy like the shepherds did… a message that changed their hearts.

…. And allow God to change our hearts – so that we can welcome the shepherds of our own time and culture.

I close with a story of my mother’s grandfather – who was the backbone of the local church and community. He came from one of the founding families of Cape Town (my home town). Here was a man who was consulted by the mayor on civic matters, and today has a botanical garden named after him. On Christmas Day he would instruct his wife (my great-grandmother) to make sure that she set extra places at the table for lunch, and he would then take the whole family off to church. He would deliberately wait after the Christmas day service to see if there was anyone who did not have somewhere to go for Christmas lunch. My mother remembers sharing Christmas lunch with widows, with soldiers, and with street people – all strangers, and all without a family on Christmas day.

You see – my Grandfather understood this one truth: that ours is a faith that welcomes the shepherds to the manager of Jesus.

Who will you welcome this Christmas?

 

“To comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable” Finley Peter Dunne (1867–1936)