Glimpses in December Darkness: The Shepherds

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Luke 2:8-20

Those of you who have been following me on facebook have been following the fun I’ve been having with “Grinch on a Bench”—my take on Elf on a shelf.

Every day during Advent, I have posted a picture of the Grinch in different situations… with the preschool kids, confirmation class,  at the manger, at the organ bench, at the Presbyterian Womens’ Christmas breakfast, at a staff meeting… it’s been a lot of fun… and created a lot of conversation about the Grinch.

Here is the thing I’ve discovered… no one seems to remember the Grinch for being transformed by the joy of the season. They remember,

“Your’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch…”

You’re a mean one, Mr. Grinch,
You really are a heel!
You’re as cuddly as a cactus,
You’re as charming as an eel, Mr. Grinch.

You’re a monster, Mr. Grinch.
Your heart’s an empty hole!
Your brain is full of spiders,
You’ve got garlic in your soul, Mr. Grinch.

You’re a foul one, Mr. Grinch.
You have termites in your smile!
You have all the tender sweetness
Of a seasick crocodile, Mr. Grinch.

What drives me crazy is that no one remembers that by the end of the story he is a different person…. Transformed by the faith of the people of Whoville… and their singing… their joy…. And he ends up joining their singing and sharing in their joy—even carving the roast beast! He is not the same as the Grinch we met before.

I think that is what Christmas is supposed to do for us… transform us… change us…

That’s what happened to the shepherds… At the beginning of the story they are out in the pastures doing their job… They remind me of the working class people… the UPS or Fed ex people who have been working hard to deliver those presents you will open.  They remind me of Dave… who has been doing some work at our house the past couple of weeks…Someone else suggested they are like police officers… working tonight… keeping watch over us! These are our shepherds today.

Luke opens their story… out in the pastures doing what they do every day, every night… keeping watch over the flocks of sheep… Ordinary people doing ordinary things. Probably not expecting anything special that night, particularly from God.

I mean, if God was going to send a message… wouldn’t God go to the temple… speak to a priest, a minister… or send a prophet?

But God has chosen them of all people in the world to be the very first to know… outside the manger, that the Son of God is born… God sends his angels, puts on a light show (that would make any of our neighborhood holiday lights pale by comparison) they sing and the angel says,

“TO YOU is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the messiah, the Lord.”  

The angel didn’t say that to Mary and Joseph… he didn’t say it to Herod or the other political leaders… he didn’t say it to the priests at the temple… but to them… Shepherds!

And you know the rest of the story: they hurried to see “this thing that has taken place…” and they get their glimpse of the light… then, Luke says, they returned… glorifying and praising God for all they had seen and heard… No doubt their lives… ordinary lives, transformed…

That’s what God is trying to do with us you know… to point us to the light… so that when we glimpse the light we find in Christ…, we will discover the one who comes to let us know our long nights are over… the nights of fear, hostility and violence… the same old, same old that has descended to our world.

Christ comes, and his birth signals the dawn of a new day, a new way, a new understanding of what it means to be alive… to find joy… even in the darkness… God comes to bring peace and goodwill and joy to us… a gift meant to change us.

That’s what Dietrich Bonhoeffer was talking about when he was reflecting upon the advent and Christmas message which proclaims  our redemption is drawing near.

I will paraphrase him for Christmas eve:

“Advent (Christmas) creates people, new people. We too are supposed to become new people at Christmas. Look to the light, you whose gaze is fixed on this earth, who are spellbound by the little events and changes on the face of the earth.  Look (to the light), you who have turned away from heaven disappointed. Look to the light, you whose eyes are heavy with tears and who are heavy and who are crying over the fact that the earth has gracelessly torn us away.
Look to the light, you who, burdened with guilt, cannot lift your eyes. Look to the light, your redemption is here. Something different from what you see daily will happen. Just be aware, be watchful… listen to the angels… God is coming… has come… is born for you… in a manger, in Bethlehem[i]

Tonight, we gather… invited by the singing of our carols… by the hearing of scripture… by the lighting of our candles… to make our trip to the manger…  It is an invitation not just to celebration, but to transformation… to receive a wonderful gift of love and redemption … of peace and goodwill and love… divine love… that can and will change us…

As the Angels invited the shepherds to come to the manger, so I believe God invites us all– no matter who we are… for God’s first invitation was to people like shepherds after all!

Every year there seems to be a new carol or hymn that  speaks the Christmas message for me and to me. This year I discovered a new Christmas song by Mary Chapin Carpenter that speaks of the invitation that is for everyone tonight… The song, “Come darkness, Come light”

Come darkness, come light
Come new star, shining bright
Come love to this world tonight
Alleluia

Come broken, come whole
Come wounded in your soul
Come anyway that you know
Alleluia

Come doubting, come sure
Come fearful to this door
Come see what love is for
Alleluia

Come running, come walking slow
Come weary on your broken road
Come see Him and shed your heavy load
Alleluia

There’s a humble stable and a light within
There’s an angel hovering and three wise men
Today a baby’s born in Bethlehem
Alleluia

Come darkness come light
Come new star burning bright
Come love to this world tonight
Alleluia

The song reminds me that everyone is invited to the stable… The Lord wishes everyone—the doubting, the sure… the broken, the whole… all of us… to come and receive this gift of light and love our God offers us.

So, tonight, let us join the shepherds and go and see this thing that has taken place… Let us go and find the joy that God means to offer us this Christmas… and for the rest of our lives…Let us go and kneel at the manger and gaze upon that little baby who is radiant with so much promise for our world today. Lord knows we and our world could use a little light and joy… Let us go… and let us light a candle for the Christ child, for the infant Jesus, for the Word made flesh.

Then, like the Grinch, may our hearts grow at least 3 sizes more… so that our hearts might glow with that light that was in him… so that we might become the candles through which his light still shines.

Tonight, may your heart and mine become the little town, the stable, the manger where Christ is born… Let  a new day a new creation, a new you, and new me begin tonight. Let there be light. [ii]

Amen.

PRAYER:

O Lord, the gift of new life, new light, can be a gift truly
only if we open ourselves to receive it.
So this is our prayer, Lord:
That thou wilt open our eyes to see thy glory
in the coming again of light each day,
open our ears to hear the angels’ hymn in the stirring
within us of joy at the coming of the child, open our hearts to the transforming power of thy love as it comes to us through the love of all those who hold us most dear and have sacrificed most for us.
Be born among us that we may ourselves be born.
Be born within us that by words and deeds of love
we may bear tidings of thy birth to a world that dies for lack of love.We ask it in the child’s name. Amen.

Frederick Buechner “Come and See” Secrets in the Dark

[i] Adapted from an Advent reflection by Bonhoeffer, p41, God is in the Manger devotions

[ii] Section adapted from Brian McLaren’s book, We Make the Road by Walking (Christmas text)

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