- Isaiah 9:2-7
- Psalm 96
- Titus 2:11-14
- Luke 2:1-20
You can find the readings, in the CEB and NRSV translations, here.
It’s Christmas Eve.
And here we are – with friends and family, gathered to worship and celebrate God.
I’ve been amazed at the number of times this advent season that I have heard that Christmas is about Jesus. Specifically, that “Jesus is the Reason for the Season.”
I really believe that everyone on earth could likely tell anyone asking that Christians celebrate Christmas because of Jesus. The characters are familiar: an engaged pregnant couple, shepherds in a field – perhaps homeless, a messenger angel and a heavenly chorus, and a newborn baby.
“…it happened while they were there that her term was up and the days were completed for her to deliver. She delivered her son, the firstborn. And she wrapped him up and placed him in a feed trough because there was no place of lodging for them anywhere else…Note also what is not in the text that we so often read into it (no snowy winter, no animals overlooking the baby’s crib, not even a stable, no innkeeper crying out “no room”).”
The gospel of Luke’s version of this story is a simple and to-the-point telling of a birth story that would make the writer of the gospel of Mark proud. So many people are acquainted with the story – even if only to give an editorial summary or synopsis. So many people claim to know. But, I wonder how many actually truly know what the story actually contains.
Because, when we look a little deeper, within the simplicity of that story we discover a couple of really important things.
“Nearby shepherds were living in the fields…” [Luke 2:8, CEB]
Some facts about shepherds during the time that Jesus came into the world as an infant:
“By the time of Jesus, shepherding had become a profession most likely to be filled from the bottom rung of the social ladder, by persons who could not find what was regarded as decent work. Society stereotyped shepherds as liars, degenerates, and thieves. The testimony of shepherds was not admissible in court, and many towns had ordinances barring shepherds from their city limits. The religious establishment took a particularly dim view of shepherds since the regular exercise of shepherds’ duties kept them from observing the Sabbath and rendered them ritually unclean. The Pharisees classed shepherds with tax collectors and prostitutes, persons who were “sinners” by virtue of their vocation.”
Here’s the thing about that reality. These shepherds are a people who are made to be outsiders: shunned by those on the other side of the established ‘decent and upstanding religious folk’ line. Outsiders are often a people who have lived through periods of being consumed by the grief of being outcast, periods of anger, and often attempts to be accepted and deep disappointment at the inability to get a leg-up. And it’s easy for outsiders to be marginalized, minimalized, and forgotten.
Except, I think, by God.
A messenger of God arrives and shines the glory of God on these ignored, stereotyped, shunned, outcasts of society. The first people to hear the news of this special birth are the lowly shepherds.
Because God doesn’t abandon or ignore anyone.
I love the next part of this story so much. Those shepherds, who may have been a little slow to trust – even God’s word, decide among themselves that they should confirm what these messengers of God had told them. How incredibly human.
And what do they find? Mary and Joseph and a baby – just as they were told.
Once the vision was confirmed, the shepherds told everyone what had happened to them out in the field – they told the story of their own experience of God.
Not just Mary and Joseph and a baby.
There is a community around that little family. Jesus was born into a community – surrounded by love and extended family. And they were amazed at the reach of God’s involvement.
Because God doesn’t abandon or ignore anyone.
“Everything happened just as they had been told.” [Luke 2:20, CEB]
One of the truly special things about Christmas comes from God promising something pretty big.
Way back when, when creation was done, and humanity sent out into the vast world, God was there. I think a lot like any parent who wants to be there for the special events of their children, God was there. And as time passed, God looked all over the earth and “surveyed humanity and realized how dark and difficult our days could be, how confused we get about our identity and place, how many painful things we do to each other out of that confusion and insecurity.”
So, in love, God reached out. And got involved.
First humanity received the gift of the Law.
Then came the prophets – mediators and messengers of God’s Word.
Here’s one of the realities of humanity though.
There always remain these people among us who are made to be outsiders: shunned by those on the other side of the established ‘decent and upstanding religious folk’ line. And these outsiders are often a people who have lived through periods of being consumed by the grief of being outcast, periods of anger, and often attempts to be accepted and deep disappointment at the inability to get a leg-up. And it’s easy for outsiders to be marginalized, minimalized, and forgotten.
So, God decided that a much more personal touch rooted in relationship was needed.
God puts an incredibly large message in a tiny, frail, helpless, human body.
This incarnation, God born into the world as a human, shouts an important message about who we are. And that Christmas message is located deep within each human being: for God to be born human means that we matter. Every single one of us matters.
The reason for the Christmas season is that God made this incredible decision to become a fleshy human being, physically reaching out to every single other body so that we can all come to truly know that God doesn’t abandon or ignore – God loves.
The Reason for the Season is Us: the whole world.
The reason for the Christmas season is that God needed us to hear and know that everyone in the whole world aren’t going to be left out of God’s loving. Especially the ones the world continues to make outsiders: “those who don’t feel loved or lovable; those who regularly feel like they’re on the outside looking in, those who feel forgotten, and those who wonder what the point of life is.”
Because of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection, we are all heirs, the children of God.
Every person is important. You are important.
Every person is worth God’s time. You are worth God’s time.
Every person deserves a community to surround them and love to uplift them. You deserve a community to surround you and love to uplift you.
Back in our gospel of Luke, Mary saw what was happening around her and committed it all to memory, considered it all carefully. May we too come to truly know the promises of the Christmas story deep within your hearts. When the shepherds had seen and confirmed this incredible gift of love with their own eyes, they returned home, praising God and, I think, telling everyone – sharing the good news – about the wonder of God’s love.
May we go and do likewise. Amen.
- Ginger Barfield. “Commentary on Luke 2:1-14[15-20]: December 24, 2016.” Preach This Week. Working Preacher.
- Karoline Lewis. “The Meaning of Christmas.” December 18, 2016: Dear Working Preacher. Preach This Week. Working Preacher.
- David Lose. “The Divine Exchange.” December 17, 2016: Dear Partner. in the Meantime.
- David Lose. “Christmas Eve/Day C: Keep It Simple.” December 22, 2015: Dear Partner. in the Meantime.
- Craig A. Satterlee. “Commentary on Luke 2:1-14[15-20]: December24, 2012.” Preach This Week. Working Preacher.
This week’s image is an oil painting from 1639 entitled, “Angels Announcing the Birth of Christ to the Shepherds” by the artist Govert Flinck. You can find out more about the painting here, and about the artist here. This work is public domain and altered slightly for the purposes of this blog.
 Ginger Barfield. “Commentary on Luke 2:1-14[15-20]: December 24, 2016.” Preach This Week. Working Preacher.
 Craig Satterlee. “Commentary on Luke 2:1-14[15-20]: December24, 2012.” Preach This Week. Working Preacher.
 David Lose. “Christmas Eve/Day C: Keep It Simple.” December 22, 2015: Dear Partner. in the Meantime.
 David Lose. “Christmas Eve/Day C: Keep It Simple.”