Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
Mike Turgeon Outside the box: “The shepherds” 12/4/11
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. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger."
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!"
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said
to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken
place, which the Lord has made known to us."
So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. Luke 2:8-20
Let me tell you right off about shepherds back in the time of Jesus. If you needed a job back then, shepherd was as low as you could go. People hated shepherds. We’ve done a lot, especially around the Christmas season, to glam up the shepherds, giving them a warm and fuzzy glow. But make no mistake, mostly they were awful.
The sheep themselves had better reputations than those who took care of them. Shepherds were often dishonest, sometimes of the criminal class, and they grazed their flocks wherever they could, often on other people’s land without asking permission. Any respectable person had little tolerance for shepherds back then.
And in their job itself, the worst offense a shepherd could commit was to abandon their sheep. You just didn’t do that. It was risky for a shepherd to leave his sheep unattended. Sheep will do some goofy things. All you need is one misguided one, and the next thing you know, they’re all wandering near the edge of the cliff. Most good shepherds were prepared to fight for their sheep even against animals of prey. They didn’t leave their sheep.
But these guys go running off to find a child. They
"Make haste to find Mary and Joseph and the child lying in a manger.”
So let’s get this straight, a bunch of lowly, dirty shepherds who have gone off, leaving their flocks, they are the ones entrusted with news so radical, it changes everything?
It feels like there’s more to this story than meets the eye and ear doesn’t it? And there certainly is plenty in this story to see and hear.
The person who wrote this, a man named Luke, was doing all he could to think outside the box. The news of something so big as the birth of Jesus needed to be told in the most memorable and unexpected way. And believe me, no one was used to hearing anything of value, let alone big news coming out of the mouths of shepherds.
But you know where else we don’t expect big news either? Out of the mouths of children. It’s true, isn’t it? We discount what kids say because they’re kids. We say they don’t have enough experience or they haven’t learned to think things through, stuff like that. But we do this at our peril.
An Arizona business man tells this story:
“In our house it has been the custom for years to open the presents on Christmas morning, not Christmas Eve. We have four children and they make this day a joyous occasion. The younger ones believe in Santa Claus with all their hearts. They know that sometime on Christmas Eve, Santa will leave a pack of gifts.
We have a rule that says the first child that wakes up on Christmas morning must wake the rest of the family and it is forbidden to go into the living room where the tree stands until the whole family can enter together.
The year my son David was 7 years old, he came down the hall to our bedroom at 4:30 am. on Christmas morning. His face was radiant, his speech was going about 90 miles an hour.
‘Daddy, Mommy, Daddy, Mommy, get up quick, come and see!’
We wiped the sleep from our eyes. His mother looked at me and I looked at her and we knew what had happened. The rule had been broken and our 7 year-old had discovered the new bicycle that he had been wanting for 2 years. Somehow we felt cheated and disappointed, but it was Christmas and we didn’t scold him. We got out of bed and put on our robes and slippers.
He took us by the hand and led us down the hall--we stopped at the girls’ room to wake them up, then woke up his younger brother, John. And then, with all the family in tow, David led us through the darkened living room to the eastern window, and he pointed through the window--oblivious to the bicycle which he had not even noticed under the tree with all the other presents.
He pointed his little finger to the eastern sky and he exclaimed in hushed awe:
‘The Star! See the Star! The Star of Bethlehem! I’ve seen the Star!’ (Thanks to retired Rev. Bob Olmstead for this story).
Oh, for the eyes and the faith of a child. Little David missed the bicycle and “saw” instead the mystery and promise of Christmas.
The real story here is that those who had no reason to be trusted were trusted with the biggest news of all--
“...When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child...”
that no matter who you are and what you have done, in Jesus there is forgiveness and hope.
Even if you have no history of attending church or reading the bible, you know about the Star of Bethlehem; you’ve heard about shepherds who couldn’t keep their mouths shut. You’ve probably sung about angels we have heard on high. The story of the birth of Jesus Christ, Messiah, Savior, Prince of Peace, was and is too big to confine to a crude straw box.
Is this story of trusting the most untrustworthy still relevant today?
You remember trust, don’t you? We used to cultivate trust as the great underlying value of the social agreement--I trust you, you trust me. Now we’re pretty guarded about who and what we trust. Trust--but verify--might be the new value.
I don’t know, maybe things haven’t really changed ever.
Back at that time when Jesus was born, someone had to swallow hard and accept that what these disgusting shepherds were saying just might be true.
I tried to imagine, what is the saddest by-product of a distrustful world? I’d have to say it is how quickly our children must grow up and leave their childhoods behind. Or maybe this isn’t all that new, either. As best as we can figure, Mary, the mother of Jesus, herself was likely a 13 or 14 year-old teenager when she gave birth.
Yes, we discount the young and the lowly; but what this story is telling us is that God trusts the most powerless and the most innocent. Maybe in this season of hope, those of us who have lived a little, who’ve been betrayed a lot, could re-learn God’s lesson of trust all over again.
Cynicism and distrust are the poisons of adult life. The world says, if you share a confidence and get betrayed, never trust again.
The world says, if you join the church and you find it is populated with mere humans with all human weaknesses, you distrust the church.
The world says, if you share love with another and find they are loving someone else, you distrust love.
The world says, if you put faith in God, if you pray and only meet silence, you distrust God.
And the world says, if you stand for peace and receive only violence in return, then you must take up violence since it is your only choice.
This baby in the box invites you to step outside of what the world wants.
Man’s inhumanity to man is not going away as much as we fervently hope that it would. What can go away is the poison that we let build up inside of us. The birth of Jesus is a ‘fresh, new trust.’ Though we may feel abandoned at time, we do not have to abandon trust.
What and who is going to heal this broken world? I fear, and I trust, that it will be you and I, acting outside the little boxes that the world has made for us.
Jesus came to us in that same little box, as human as you and I. That is how he came. Why he came is so that:
“...you may have life and have life abundantly.” John 10:10
What he brought with him is a love so powerful it’s been known to change hearts that are full of poison and distrust. Change them not by force and violence, the tools of a world gone mad; but by gentle assurance that you are loved. Loved in ways that are deep and lasting. Believe it, and stay outside the box.
And had Luke’s story not been told and retold, shepherd to shepherd, person to person and beyond, would as many even know who this baby was? A lot depended on the shepherds doing the right thing, speaking up when no one wanted to hear what they had to say.
God does still speak today, but likely not through the rich and the powerful, but the young and the lowly. Are we willing to listen?
Is God still revealing, still creating, still trying to get a message through today? Yes, indeed, God still speaks, and now, more than ever, it is our time to listen.