The Shepherds

I think this is from December of 2005.

Midnight mass finished up 22 hours ago in Vietnam.  Throughout the Middle-East and Africa, Christian families are together, recounting the day’s events, and watching the sun go down on the holiest day of the year.  In England, Christmas dinner is over, and the great English/American tradition – the Christmas nap – is taking place.  Here in Adrian, my neighbors are right now frying their 4th turkey–you can bet the traditional nap is only a few hours away.  And in Hawaii they will sleep a while longer before the greetings of “Mele Kalikimaka” are heard.  For the last 27 hours (and for the next 21), Christians around the world celebrate the birth of Christ.

The point in history when God came physically to earth  — as a homeless little baby in the middle of nowhere.  The first ones to hear about this were the shepherds.  Why the shepherds? Well, clearly shepherds are some of God’s favorite people – Moses and David, for example, put in their time with the flocks.  And Jesus liked to call himself the good shepherd.  Shepherds are also just the kind of poor & dispossessed people that our God brings to glory.  But mostly, I think, that night, the shepherds heard first for another reason.

The bible says they were out tending their sheep.  Out working.  And God the father looks down at his only begotten son — a brand new baby, there in the feed trough, wrapped-up in rags.  And he says, “Wow!  I have to tell somebody about this!  Who’s up?”  Who’s up in the middle of the night?  Shepherds.  My guess is that if Jesus was born today, it would be the people working, and hanging out all night, at truck stops, diners, bars and street corners, who would first be told of the miraculous birth.

The news, thank God, trickled down to the respectable folk.  The good news.  That God is here with us.  He loves us.  He forgives us.  He wants us to be with him.

So the celebration of God’s son, the baby, bringing the good news to the world, continues.  We have several hours left today.  And if we want, we can continue to celebrate tomorrow, too.

Jesus didn’t give us any guidelines for celebrating his birth.  So, for the last couple thousand years, Christians have come up with an amazing variety of ways to mark the arrival of the little baby and the good news.

But he did set up the celebration that we’re about to take part in this morning.

I’ll finish up with some of Paul’s words from I Corinthians, and a prayer by Nathan Nettleton:

For this is what the Lord himself said, and I pass it on to you just as I received it. On the night when he was betrayed, the Lord Jesus took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, he took the cup of wine after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant between God and you, sealed by the shedding of my blood. Do this in remembrance of me as often as you drink it.” For every time you eat this bread and drink this cup, you are announcing the Lord’s death until he comes again.

So

With the woman who gave him birth,

with the man who took him on his shoulders,

with the shepherds who found him in a feed trough,

with the magi who knew of him from the silent stars,

with the aged prophets who saw in him the redemption of the world,

with the angels and archangels who envelop us,

with all the saints before us and beside us,

with brothers and sisters, east and west, north and south,

And with our loved ones, separate from us now,

who yet, in this mystery are close to us,

We celebrate Christ’s birth, we proclaim his death and resurrection, and we await his return in glory.

Amen.

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