Merry Christmas to all. First times give us pause and make us think … like, writing this letter for the first time. More importantly, the above scripture from Luke lets us witness a really big first thing, the long awaited arrival of humanity’s savior, the Messiah, and the first announcement of Jesus’ arrival as a baby by God’s messengers to a very surprising … and surprised … group of people. Back when Jesus was born, shepherds were held in low regard. By the nature of the work, shepherds could come in for ritual baths so they were spiritually unclean. More to the point, they lived on the outskirts of everything where unsavory characters and violence were common. From time to time they clashed with townies and more than one shepherd aspired to rule over people, King David being the most famous example.
It was quite startling for the original hearers of Luke to discover that God’s very own messenger, surrounded by God’s shining glory turning night into day, would choose shepherds to be the first hearers of good news of great joy for all people. More impressive is what comes later, after they took the angel’s advice not to be terrified, when the shepherds took the hint to “you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” Once the heavenly chorus stopped singing, the light of God’s glory winked out, and the sheep settled, the shepherds looked to each other and said, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place.” After telling Jesus’ startled mother Mary what had happened to them, imagine an excited oil rig crew bursting into your hospital room after you had given birth with a story to tell, they returned the way they had come, fear free, praising God and telling everyone what had happened, becoming Jesus’ most unlikely early evangelists. It really was good news of great joy for all people, and these shepherds were sharing it with anyone who would listen to them.
Here we are at Christmas and we are called to come and see too. We are called to drop our fear and see God come into the world so that we might know God and God’s love better. Jesus came to save us from the deep hole we had dug for ourselves with sin. Let us gather in awe like the shepherds of old, pick up some of their excitement, and share the good news with all people. And if truly, God will bestow “on earth peace among those whom he favors” and God favors those suspicious shepherds, then surely there is some peace for each of us as well.
Please join us on Christmas Eve, Friday December 24, at 5 p.m. for a service of readings and carols.
Merry Christmas from the First-Calvary Baptist staff.
Pastor Jeff Snyder