The Gospel According to the Shepherds
Luke 2:8-20 // Hebrews 1:1-6
Sixth in a series of Seven, “The Gospel According to Us”
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. We draw our sermon from Luke 2, especially these words, “’Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us’... and the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”
Dear friends in Christ,
There are places and times in your life where the ordinary falls away and you are lifted into the extraordinary.
One of those places, I remember well, was in the mountains around Salquil-Grande, Guatemala. I was a freshman in college, and we were working to make houses for widows in a little town up there in the mountains. We would sleep in a school overnight and then make our way to the worksite at 6:30am or so to begin our day.
And I remember walking over the last hill before seeing the slope of our worksite. Beyond it, the mountainside dropped off down into the valley full of mist.
And as the sun began to burn off that mist, we started our day of work by singing, “Then sings my soul // my Savior God to thee // How great thou art // How great thou art...” Don Guse, a retired professional singer kind-of-a-guy to my right, Marty Knoll, my sixth-grade teacher to my left, I will never forget the clarity that this scene brought to those words, how they have been burned into my mind with the sentiment of the extraordinary, as if that was their rightful place; that’s where that hymn should have always been sung, and now I know, now I finally know.
And then the ordinary comes around again. But the extraordinary still shines on. For me, in that hymn, now I think of it every time I sing. It hasn’t left me; it’s the opposite entirely. All that is ordinary is transformed.
That’s the idea that I want you to have as you look at the Gospel according to the Shepherds.
Notice this first. They were where they had always been. They were with their sheep. They weren’t too far outside of Bethlehem. They were doing what they always did, but then their ordinary surroundings fell away when the extraordinary glory of the Lord shone around them.
Angels appear. The Savior is announced. Salvation is promised. And all that was ordinary is transformed.
Can you imagine looking after their flocks by night for days and years afterward? Can you imagine if they lived long enough to see Jesus’s ministry what they would think ... what they would tell their children? Can you imagine how everything in their lives was suffused with the extraordinary when they reflected on what they had heard and seen first from the angels and second from their own eyes and ears, how the babe at Bethlehem was just as they had been told.
I can tell you at this point something I have discovered about myself, that I am mostly selfish and unimaginative.... in this way. It took me having a child or two to realize what it means when dads tell the little cute stories about their kids.
You see, a couple of months ago, I was there with two of my friends who have two little kids each, and we were exchanging stories like “Gideon built a tower this high.” “Whenever Benny asks me to go fast in the car, I say that I am going to ‘go as fast as reasonable.’” “Asher learned how to push the chair over to the counter to climb up to get to the cookie jar.”
And they’re all incredibly ordinary stories. None of our kids are astronauts yet. None of them qualified for the Olympics. None of them are prodigies. They’re just ordinary kids. But the difference here is that they’re our kids. Here’s the point, so listen in: when you’re this guy’s dad, you get a front-row seat to this magical journey of seeing a child grow up from nothing into something.
And I tell you that to tell you this: Seeing the extraordinary influences the way you look at everything else. The experience of this extraordinary magic of seeing your child grow up right before your very eyes lends the very same awe every time you see a mom with her baby, every time you see a dad with his toddler.
Here is one of the deepest holes that a life-long Christian can fall into: we turn the extraordinary presence of God into another hum-drum experience. We turn the very precious law of God which tells how to love our neighbor into rules that we have to do to earn God’s favor. We pray “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done” without thinking long and hard about how your hours, your minutes, in every chapter of life, whether you can see it or not, are the ways in which God’s kingdom comes and God’s will is being done. In short, we treat the extraordinary, cosmic meaning and significance that our God bestows on us in Jesus Christ as meaningless and insignificant, chasing after something else for the very same thing we crave.
Three thoughts for you in closing. First, we think about how God had, as Pastor Griffin said last night, for decades and centuries, been planning this plan for his people, to prosper them and not to harm them, to use their joy and their suffering to bring forth the restoration of the universe. So, if he did that for his people then, why would he not keep on doing it for his people today?
Second, we think about the remarkably ordinary entry of God into the world to remember that’s how the Gospel always works. When it does its work, the Gospel makes the most momentous events – forgiveness, peace, life, grace, mercy, self-control, love, kindness – ordinary, as ordinary as the Son of God walking among his people.
Third, did you notice that in the way I started this whole meditation? The ordinary falls away and when it falls away, all you’re left with is the extraordinary. The ordinary of sin and fault and pain and loss fall away in the face of the extraordinary and you find that all of the life that flows from the manger, from the cross, from the empty tomb, from the font, from the Table, it makes all the rest of life a communion with the God of the universe.
Amen and amen.
Worship Sermons & Letters