Before I begin our devotion today, I want to remind you that we are going Christmas caroling after the meal program this evening. Be at church by 6pm if you want to come with us. And speaking of Christmas carols, I have been slow in getting the Christmas Eve service together this year. If you are going to be with us for the7:30pm worship service on Tuesday, you still have time to get in your request for that one Christmas carol which must be included or it just isn’t Christmas Eve. E-mail me your suggestion by Monday and I’ll try to make room for it.
Read Luke 2: 1–14
For the Christmas story
It is about Amazing Grace
The story of the shepherds is the story of amazing grace, and we can look at the shepherds as shining stars in our own faith journey.
You are likely already familiar with the above scripture reading; probably you recognized it whenever the first words are read. If you are particularly faithful in your worship habits, you probably hear it every year during this season. Some of you may even read this scripture passage in your own family circle on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day. But even if you are rarely able to come to church, you likely know the scripture. You’ve heard some of it on a program that has appeared on television regularly since 1965: A Charlie Brown Christmas. Many of us can almost hear Linus’ quavering voice as the lesson is read.
The story of this scripture passage is so lovely, so familiar, so evocative that there’s nothing we can add to it. It’s a simple story, and we know it well. Joseph and Mary are without a place to stay, so the baby Jesus is born in a stable. An angel announces the good news to some shepherds who are watching over their flocks in a nearby field, and suddenly an angel chorus sings, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom [God] favors.” Then the shepherds go to see the child. What more is there to say?
Well, here’s a question. Why the shepherds? Why did they get an angelic invitation, so that they were the very first people on the planet — aside from Joseph and Mary — to see the Son of God come to earth? If you take the story seriously, you wonder what was in the mind of God to make this particular selection. On the other hand, if you think it’s simply a quaint and lovely story, you must wonder what the ancient storyteller had in mind.
Regardless, I think the answer is to show us that God never considers us outsiders. The entire Gospel of Luke is about showing that outsiders are brought inside. We have all suffered from feeling like we didn’t fit in, weren’t good enough, or didn’t measure up. If you were at the kids’ Christmas program last year, you may remember them singing to us that shepherds hang out with “shaggy, smelly sheep.” They were not respected. God begins with the birth of Jesus showing all of us that we are never outside the bounds of his grace. Even those of us that stink are welcome with God. The shepherd story though is not just about God’s amazing invitation to grace, it is about the shepherds amazing acceptance of grace.
Have you turned down an invitation, sabotaged an opportunity, or defeated yourself because you felt like you weren’t good enough? Most of us have. The shepherds did not though. When invited by a multitude of the heavenly hosts singing in the night, they didn’t say, “I don’t really have anything to wear” or “I don’t have any way of getting there”. They didn’t make any excuses to cover up that they felt inadequate. They just took advantage of the opportunity they were given. I have a hard time with that sometimes, and I know others who do too. But this is an important lesson for us to learn. When God thrusts opportunities upon us, we should accept. We are being called and as people of faith we need to respond, not just in faith that what God does for us is good, but that what God has created us to be is good, and so we are good enough.
Sometime this weekend, toast the shepherds. They are shining stars showing us that even when we feel that we are the least, God can call us to the greatest things imaginable. Then the next time you are called, forget those excuses and answer! God has something great for you.