TEXT: Luke 2:8-16
when I read the Bible, I come away thinking that maybe God needs to take a good
marketing course. Time and time again it seems that God passes up the most
effective means of getting the message out and chooses something that is loaded
with problems instead.
Christmas story is a perfect example of this. God has some pretty incredible
news to get out. The Messiah is born. And God does prepare a pretty amazing ad
for the event. God lines up a whole multitude of angels to sing a piece from
the Messiah -- they are rehearsed and ready to go along with an incredible
light show. Coke never had such an ad. But of all the channels God could have
chosen to run the ad, God chooses the Shepherd channel.
royalty channel, which everybody watches, finds out about the event quite late
and then only by accident when some wise travelers let the news slip. The
People's channel, which has a huge audience in prime time never runs the story
at all, and all you can find on the local news is pictures of the huge crowds
and some unusual astronomical activity. There's not even a mention on the Temple channel, to which all the Messiah-seekers are tuned every night. The huge,
elaborate angel chorus singing Glory to God is seen only on the seldom-viewed,
often-laughed-at Shepherd Channel.
was God thinking? Why tell shepherds? In first century Palestine shepherds
could not even be witnesses in a court of law. If somebody robbed you in the
field and 35 shepherds saw it and could name the attacker, it wouldn't matter.
Their testimony would not count. They were just shepherds. The only other ones
to get the news were foreign astrologers who happened to be channel surfing
that night and saw the light show. Is that any way to get the Word out?
God thought so, which leaves us to wondering what we are missing. For one
thing, the Gospel of Matthew tells us what happened when the news finally hit
the royalty channel. The King gave orders to slaughter every baby boy under 2
years of age. While the shepherds rejoiced at the news, the King was afraid of
the news...this baby was a threat to his throne and had to be eliminated. So
perhaps leaving the initial ad off of the royalty channel was not such a bad
surely God could have gone to religious broadcasting. What of the Temple channel? Actually, the temple channel was offered a chance to show the event, since
the angels appeared to shepherds who were keeping the Temple flocks. But their
cameras did not have any more interest in shepherds than the rest of the
stations and the evening was already booked with teaching and prayers by
important holy people and reports on Temple income. No need to look to the
riff-raff when they already had all the answers to the mysteries of God
broadcast nightly from 7-9.
what of the People's channel and the local news? Why not clue in the general
population? The Messiah was coming for everyone, after all. Yes, but Jesus was
going to be a very different Messiah than anyone was expecting. The people were
quite ready for a Messiah...a king that would come and free them from Roman
oppression. Palestine in the first century is an occupied country and the
people of Israel live under oppressive conditions. They want to be
self-governing. They remember that Moses freed the people from the Egyptians
and the Messiah, the new Moses, they expected would free them from the Romans
in the same way.
that was not what Jesus came to do. "My kingdom is not of this
world," he would later explain to Roman authorities. Jesus came to free
people from spiritual bondage to sin and death...to bring a freedom that could
not be taken away no matter what foreign nation might technically rule the
place. But inner freedom wasn't what most people wanted...except for maybe
people like shepherds. You see, it didn't really matter to shepherds who ruled
the country...Rome or Israel...Bush or Clinton, or whoever might come along.
They weren't going to count no matter who was in charge.
knew that political freedom is a thing of privilege. Political freedom simply
means that the attitudes and values of the culture are allowed to flourish. If
you have a job that the culture values; if you have a physical appearance or
lifestyle that people admire; if you have the money to buy your way through the
obstacles; then you have an interest in political freedom.
if you fall into certain categories; if your own people don't find you
valuable, you don't get freedom from a change in government. What difference
did the American Revolution make to slaves? Shepherds knew that real freedom
had to spring from someplace else, and any savior that shows up as a baby in a
feeding trough would understand that. So they hurried to see and came away
rejoicing. I think God gave the message to shepherds because shepherds were
some of the only ones able to both understand and appreciate what Jesus was
coming to do.
also think God gave the message to shepherds because in this upside down
Kingdom of God where the first are last and the last first, shepherds are some
of the most valuable and admired people around. The major figures of the Hebrew
Scriptures...Abraham, Moses, David...all were shepherds. Remember that the work
of a shepherd is grueling and dangerous. The Christmas story talks about
shepherds "abiding" in the fields. That means they lived there. They
didn't lay around in fields all day and then go home and get cleaned up for
bed. They lived outdoors, day and night, with the sheep.
And they were
required to protect that sheep at all costs...even at the cost of their own
young David reminds King Saul that as a shepherd he has killed both lions and
bears. If a wild animal got a sheep, the shepherd was required to go after it
and do everything possible to rescue the sheep. To prove that you did
everything possible, you had to come back to the owner with some piece of the
dead sheep...an ear, a leg...something that you wrestled away from the wolf or
lion or bear that took it. If you didn't have a part of the animal to show, the
cost of the animal came out of your paycheck.
most valued occupation in God's kingdom seems to be the shepherd...the person
who spends every hour of every day willing to risk life and limb to save a
sheep. And sheep aren't even smart or rare or adept at much of anything. We're
not talking risking life for thoroughbred race horses or endangered species or
even the family dog. We're talking sheep. Risk your life for a sheep. Daily.
All your life. When you can do that, you will know all that is necessary to
receive the news that the angels brought.
God brought the
news to shepherds because that's the job Jesus came to do.
calls himself the "Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the
sheep." God dying for human beings is qualitatively the same as human
beings dying for sheep...few people understand why anyone would do something
like that and fewer still would ever think of doing it themselves. And yet here
is God setting the example. God, the King of all the heavenly host, becomes a
despised shepherd in order to serve sheep. Shepherds would have no trouble
understanding what this Messiah was all about. God told shepherds because God
has a shepherd's heart.
where does that leave us? What channel are you watching this Christmas? Maybe
it's the Royalty channel and the news of Christmas brings a severe threat. If
this story is true...if God was born into the world as a poor baby and grew up
to teach things like loving enemies, giving wealth away, and giving up high
places to wash the feet of others...if all that is really true, it might
require more than I want to give. I might have to give up things that make me
comfortable. I might have to hang out with people I think are despicable. Don't
want that news on my channel. Things might get ugly.
it's the People's channel where people who once had influence dream of past
glory, and the information gets misinterpreted. Hey, Martha! Guess what? Great
news! God has come to make sure that the right party gets back in office. No
more sidelines for you and me...no more policies that hurt us and help somebody
else. We're going to be back in power. It's about time!
it's the local news you're watching, you probably won't have time to deal with
it -- there's just too much happening. I can't believe they're showing this on
the news! I don't have time to worry about what's happening to homeless people
in stables, for heaven's sake. I have a hard enough time keeping up with news
at the courts and the palace and the temple. Those things affect my life. This
has nothing to do with me. Where's the remote?
the Temple channel are you? Boy, this teaching is great! I'm going to get every
book this guy ever wrote. Look at all the people who come to hear him...look
at...Hey! What are they interrupting this for? Great...farm hands have a
hallucination and for that they interrupt the teaching of God. They're probably
smoking that weed. Poor folks in a stable? No, sorry, God deserves our best and
God blesses those who truly worship Him. Maybe when those folks really find God
they'll be able to afford better than a barn to live in. This thing has false
religion written all over it.
you're going to really hear the Word that became flesh on Christmas, you need
to get the news from the Shepherd channel. We need to hear the news from the
perspective of the despised and rejected...from the poor and
disenfranchised...from those who have no hopes of fame or fortune under Republicans
or Democrats. We need to hear it from them because we need to be reminded that
fame and fortune, power and control are not what the Kingdom of God is about. The Kingdom of God is about giving up your life for a sheep. It's about learning
how to be free on the inside when you are sitting in chains. It's about
learning where to find joy when your world falls apart. It's about feeling rich
with nothing at all and blessed of God even though the world spits in your
there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch
over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and
the glory of the Lord shone round about them and they were sore afraid. And the
angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great
joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of
David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
trembled and resorted to murder. Most people took no notice at all. But the
shepherds knew. Do you? Amen.
Sermon © 2006, Anne