Sermon on Luke 2: 1-14 preached by
The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman
Midnight Mass 24th December 2001
In the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord. Ex 16 v 7
Someone was talking to me about all the prophecies in Isaiah regarding the coming of Jesus after the service yesterday. And for some reason I recalled the first and rather unflattering reference that occurs but gives us the reference to the ox and the ass which we so often associate with the crib scene at Christmas:
Isaiah 1 v 3 – ‘The ox knows his master, the donkey its owner's manger, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand’.
And if you think of the crib scene when Jesus is born, the ox and ass are there but there is a decided absence of Jews, the very people for whom Christ has come first.
Fortunately God has a plan.
Because the Jews are not there, God goes to get them. He sends an angel, one of His own messengers, to the Jewish shepherds on the hillside just outside Bethlehem and tells them to come to the stable.
But why the shepherds, why not some important Rabbis and Jewish leaders of the Sanhedrin?
Shepherds, after all had a very low reputation.
They couldn’t keep to the Jewish ceremonial law because their job required them to be with their flocks all the time, no time to nip off to the local synagogue each week to pray…
They were also often accused of stealing from the locals, mixing up 'mine' and 'thine' a bit.
Indeed they were considered so unreliable they couldn’t give testimony in a court of law. Hardly the right sort of people to invite to come to the stable…
…we don’t know what these particular shepherds were like, but they did come from a class of people that was certainly looked down on. Ordinary people with a less than perfect past – to put them in the best light.
Another interesting thing is that these shepherds were in the fields nearby.
Jewish law, in several places, says that flocks must be kept in the wilderness, not in the fields nearby, where we heard these shepherds and sheep were… …what’s going on?
If we look at Rabbinic teaching, it indicates that any animals kept between Jerusalem and this particular spot were for sacrifice in the temple. So that’s what the shepherds were doing, looking after the sacrificial lambs which would be slain in the temple so that the Jews could receive atonement for their sins.
And suddenly the story of the shepherds begins to make a bit more sense. Because as the veil between heaven and earth is drawn back and the angel breaks onto the scene, history is about to be changed.
The angel appears, the glory of the Lord shines around, and the shepherds, petrified, sit and listen to every word the angel says.
As they listen they understand that the angel is inviting the shepherds to go and see the Christ, the Lord, the anointed one, the Messiah, the one they call for each day in their prayers.
But then they realise, it's more than that, this is going to be life changing, there is going to be more than keeping watch over the sacrificial lambs for the Temple in the future. Because they are being invited to go and see the real thing.
The shepherds were invited to go and see the new born lamb of God, who would be slain once and for all, so that everyone, not just the Jews could have a relationship with God, both now and in the future. Led by the glory of the Lord, the glory which shone around the angel, the same glory that led and guided the Israelites by the pillar of cloud and the pillar of fire when they were wandering in the desert looking to enter the promised land.
This same glory now leads not only the Jewish shepherds to their inheritance, but also lead the rest of the world, all people, into their eternal inheritance, a relationship restored with God as the glory draws us into that stable in Bethlehem.
It was an invitation to go and see the real thing.
And at Christmas time that’s God’s invitation to us.
To come and see the real thing again, to meet with God for real, through Jesus who became man, born at Christmas time so that we could experience the reality of the Messiah.
Not perhaps the Jesus of our Sunday School who we didn’t quite understand or who seemed far and distant. Not the Jesus of the Christmas cards, idealised, meek and mild. But the Jesus of today, the radical and dynamic Jesus, who is as relevant and significant now as He was to the shepherds 2000 years ago. Who came to each one of us, unto you a Son is given, to bring peace into our lives, not just at Christmas but throughout the whole year.
Just as God reached out to the shepherds so they, and the Jewish community would not miss out on the best thing ever, so God reaches out to each one of us afresh at Christmas.
To us. People, who just like the shepherds, are ordinary people with a less than perfect past.
It didn’t matter to God then and it doesn’t today.
God is a God who calls out to us and reaches out to us time and time again, each time offering us a new opportunity to know more of the real Jesus in our lives, an ongoing and deepening relationship with God, the God who became incarnate at Christmas. The profound mystery of our faith which we celebrate in the communion.
God in all His power, majesty and might, who comes down from heaven in the form of a fragile and vulnerable baby, who comes to get us, comes to call us… … just as he went out to get the shepherds to make sure they did not miss out, calls us so that we don’t miss out.
So that we can meet with Him personally and experience the real thing, the living power of God in our lives this Christmas, for the first time, or for the hundred and first time. To meet with him afresh.
What a Christmas present.