Isaiah 52:7-10, Luke 2:15-20
December 27, 2015
Next week is Epiphany. Actually, since Epiphany usually falls on a day other than Sunday, we have to choose a Sunday closest to it to celebrate. And we need to do that! Because Epiphany is a good thing to celebrate! Epiphany is the great “Aha” moment, a time when we find these most unlikely visitors, coming into this very Jewish world, and eventually to this very Jewish family, to visit and to worship their Messiah!
“Where is he who is born King of the Jews?” they asked, “For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him!” Once again, we see those words and that visit as just part of the landscape – part of the story of Christmas. But it was a most extraordinary and unexpected event! And I want us to think about that as we lead up to that celebration. (That’s just a little “teaser.”)
In the meantime, I’d like us to think today about another group of unlikely players in this story – these Shepherds out in the fields. They were not part of the “religious elite,” though they were likely part of the Jewish community. They were not of a very high social standing. In fact, they were probably of one of the lowest. The visit of these angels and their announcement didn’t come to anyone of importance. It didn’t even come to a very large group of people! If you think bout it, this was probably not a very good way to get this good news to “all people?”
But that’s the story. These Shepherds, as unlikely as they were, were the first to hear this good news! And that too is just part of the picture of Christmas. The Messiah, the King of kings and Lord of lords, was born into a lowly family, in this humble way. He grew up in a small town. And like those shepherds, he was part of the lower social strata of that community. In fact, as I mentioned before, some scholars believe that the word we translate “carpenter” may just as accurately mean “one who tends the tools of a carpenter.” And that would have put this family on one of the lowest of social levels of that community.
That’s amazing story of Christmas. God became a man, but he chose to enter this world in a humble, almost obscure way. And again, we take that part of this almost for granted! But it is perhaps the greatest and the most profound part of this story. I sometimes find myself wondering how I would reveal such news to the world, if it were up to me.
This was God’s way. And if you think about it, this is all pretty typical of how God had worked throughout the centuries! Just think of the people he had called to do great things. Moses, Elijah, David (another shepherd!) Jeremiah – and the list goes on. Throughout the Bible, we find story after story of how God used common people to do uncommon things.
Paul captured that idea in the first part of his letter to the Corinthians. In chapter one he says, “Consider your call, my brethren. Not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.” (I Corinthians 1:26-28) That’s amazing, if you think about it!
So maybe it’s not all that unexpected that God would do that very thing in his own story! Paul recognized that in what he told the Philippians. He said, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death.” (Philippians 2:5-8)
That’s the nature of this Christmas story we celebrate. The miracle of God in this event is found in this newborn child. It is the ultimate example of God using the common, the unlikely, the humble, the meek. For he became all those things himself!
That’s quite a miracle! It’s a miracle the prophet Isaiah told us about hundreds of years before this. He was describing the humility and lowliness of the coming Messiah, and he said, “Who has believed what we have heard, and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected[a] by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, and as one from whom men hide their faces.” (Isaiah 53:1-3)
That’s the picture of the humble way God chose to enter this world. That’s the miracle we consider in this story, and in our lives. It’s the story of these shepherds. It’s “the mind” Paul said we must strive to “have among ourselves.” For we too are among the common, the unlikely, and the meek. And, like those shepherds, we must go and seek! When the angels announced this miracle, these men didn’t just say, “That’s nice.” They said, “Let us go and see this thing that was made known to us!”
They were called to go and seek this miracle. They had to leave their sheep and go. Actually Luke is not all that clear about what they did with the sheep. We always seem to see sheep at the manger when we see a nativity scene, but whose sheep were they? Did they belong to the person who gave Mary and Joseph this animal shelter to use? Or did they come along with these shepherds? That’s not really all that clear. I think it more likely that some of the shepherds stayed behind and watched the sheep, while others went to Bethlehem?
No matter how it happened, what is clear is that shepherds went to seek the miracle. And as we make our way through this season of Christmas, may we think about the players in this story. As we think about the kind of people they were, may we also think about the kind of person God became in Jesus. And may we strive to make all those parts of this story our story, too. May we continually seek the miracle. For we too are the common people through whom God wants to do uncommon things!
Eternal God, you who once humbled yourself in a manger in Bethlehem, you are now exalted among your people. May our lives reflect the humility and love you once showed us, and you continue to show us, each day of our lives. For this we pray in our Savior’s name, Amen.