Christmas Eve Meditation, Colchester Federated Church, (Luke 2:8-20) December 24, 2018
“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Those familiar words begin a familiar part of our story on this Christmas Eve night. We may picture Linus reciting them in A Charlie Brown Christmas when Charlie Brown asks in frustration if anyone knows what Christmas is all about. Linus recites Luke Chapter 2 verses 8-14 (from the King James Version of the Bible) and lets the story of the shepherds and angels telling them about the Bethlehem baby born that day speak for itself.
Because this is what Christmas is all about—heaven and earth miraculously meeting in that field, the night sky suddenly illuminated by the heavenly host and the glory of the Lord shining around them. The moving message from the angel that in the birth of the child Jesus (that child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a borrowed bed of straw) there is good news of great joy for all people in all times and places.
Though it’s worth thinking about those shepherds for a moment. The angels tend to get all the glory. In Christmas pageants there is often clamoring and begging and pleading to be angels, to wear the halos and wings with sparkle and glitter. While sometimes pageant directors have to beg and plead for just one more shepherd, please. Yes, your costume may look like an old bathrobe (and may be an old bathrobe.) But we must have at least two shepherds, please. Yet the shepherds have an important part to play in our story and can inspire because they aren’t heavenly beings used to miracles!
Luke tells us that these shepherds were living in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. Homiletics Professor O. Wesley Allen Jr. reminds us that “these shepherds are not necessarily the landowners who own the flock and the fields—those persons are asleep in the comfort of their homes. The shepherds in the text are more likely the night-shift slaves or low-paid wage earners who protect the flock at night.” In our Christmas story, the angels don’t appear to the high and mighty any more than Jesus is born in luxurious comfort. No, the message of the birth of the Messiah is announced to modest folks who are doing their best to protect the sheep entrusted to their care, even though they are not necessarily the landowners who own those flocks and fields.
Jesus is born in humble circumstances. His birth is announced to humble people. This is indeed good news of great joy for all people, including you and me.
Poet Christine Rodgers explains the situation of Jesus’ birth by writing: “We have romanticized this birth—very nearly sanitized the reality away. The truth is this baby was born into poverty. There was no room for him. No hospital—no clean sheets—no doctors or nurses in attendance. There were animals and outcasts around him. His own parents exhausted and far from home. This is how our God chose to come into the world. He chose poverty—and I imagine he would choose it still. He would choose to be close to those with nothing—those who had room for wonder. It makes me wonder where we are—where Jesus would be born today.”
Many of us know tonight’s Christmas story by heart. Yet we’re challenged to not gloss over the circumstances of Jesus’ birth and who hears the good news of great joy first. Because the details in the Gospel according to Luke tell us something about how God works in the world. How God chose to be uniquely with humanity forever in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Choosing to be born into poverty, to be close to those with nothing, those who had room for wonder, says something about our God of compassion and unconditional love. The circumstances of Jesus’ birth and those shepherds hearing the good news first says something about God looking out for the marginalized, the vulnerable, the oppressed—not just back then. But now too.
We can even ask ourselves where Jesus would be born today, contemplating the implications of the Savior of the world being born with outcasts and animals surrounding him for there was no room for him.
If we sit with these questions and implications on Christmas Eve it’s enough to take our breath away. To make us stop in our tracks and look around at the world that God has entrusted to our care. To wonder where Jesus would be born this night and if our hearts would be open enough to greet his birth with wonder and not cynicism or even fear.
There’s a reason that this holy story has withstood the tests of time. The birth of our Bethlehem baby still gives us a thrill of hope, a reason for our weary world to rejoice. In the birth of Jesus we see the radical trust of God, who trusted humanity to hold their creator. Our God who trusted that Jesus’ birth, life, ministry and teachings, death, and resurrection would lead us to love God and love one another in amazing ways. Ways that would change the world. Ways that can still change the world.
In the end, Jesus’ birth is just the beginning of the story. Revealing a glimpse into how God loves us more than we can possibly imagine. Showing one moment of the glory of God shining in that field to humble and hopeful shepherds watching over a flock of sheep in fields that didn’t even belong to them. The angel’s message to those shepherds transcends that time and place, for the words still ring true: “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.” Thanks be to God. Amen.
 Luke 2:8, NRSV.
 O Wesley Allen Jr., Commentary on Luke 2:8-20, Working Preacher, December 25, 2016, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2996
 Christine Rodgers, “Song for the Poor at Christmas.”
 Luke 2:10-11.