I KNOW this will be hard to believe, but when I was a kid…I was a bit of a geek! (You don’t have to laugh QUITE so hard- it’s not THAT funny!) When I was in 6th Grade, our school had a field hockey tournament. The PE teacher picked 6 kids to be team captains, and much to my (and everyone else’s for that matter!) surprise, I was picked as one of them. It was both a great honor AND an awesome responsibility- I had to now uphold the honor of all the geeks in the school. Well, all the kids lined up and the captains began picking. I stood at a crossroads at that moment- do I pick my friends, geeks one and all, or do I pick kids who can actually help me win? The decision seemed simple- I went with friendship over victory! I loaded my team with every geeky kid there was (and if you are reading this and were ON that team, sorry…but we ALL know it’s true)! The other captains just laughed as my geek quotient got higher and higher. BUT…the last kid picked WASN’T the geekiest as usual- a moral victory at least! All the Vegas pundits picked us to fall really early and really hard- some didn’t even think we would actually make to the START of the 1st game. Kids were betting hard-earned lunch money against us. Things looked gloomy for the All-Stars (yes, that WAS our name. Got a problem with that?!) Then, the tournament started. We played round-robin, double-elimination as I recall, and I took the whole thing so seriously that my mom was the only parent in attendance! (I insisted she come!) And throughout the tournament, a remarkable thing happened! We kept winning! As more teams dropped out, the geek-laden All-Stars, corrective shoes flying and inhalers working overtime, hung in there. Finally, it came down to us and one other team- the championship game! The World Series, Super Bowl and Stanley Cup rolled into one (perhaps I exaggerate JUST a bit)! Even now, the dramatic memory is so intense it makes the hair on my head stand up (metaphorically speaking, of course)! The puck was dropped, one of my geek teammates the puck OUT OF MIDAIR (Wayne Gretzky, eat your heart out)- the puck flew, straight and true, into the genu-whine plastic goal, and the first point was scored! That goal so demoralized the other team (either that or they simply had better things to care about, unlike us All-Stars) that the game was quickly out of reach. When the final buzzer sounded (OK, it was the PE teacher’s whistle), the All-Stars, after marching undefeated through the prelims, walked away with our taped glasses and pocket protectors held high, victorious to the end! And there was GREAT rejoicing among all the geeks down in Geeksville…and for one brief, shining moment…I was hailed as their king! I get misty just thinking about it!
The world seems FULL of shock and scandals. Every time you read a news item or turn on the TV, there seems to be yet another scandal unfolding somewhere. But have you ever thought about just how scandalous the birth of Jesus was? If you peel away the layers of the story, dig beneath the “comfortable poetry” that the Gospel accounts of His birth seem to be, the story reads like front-page news on the nearest “scandal sheet”. In our current sermon series- Scandalous– we are focusing squarely on that fact…meeting it head-on. Is this story REALLY scandalous? If so…why? Three weeks ago, we began with Joseph- a simple man of faith. He was just hanging out when news came that would rock his world. Two weeks ago, we actually “backed the truck up” slightly and peeked into Mary’s visit from the angel. Last week, we journeyed to Bethlehem to see the humble surroundings that signaled the birth of Jesus. Today, we look at who was the first to receive the news of a Baby in a manger and we find that the lowest class of people got the most exalted of messages.
Luke 2:8-12 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you Good News that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a Baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
So, you’ve got these shepherds. They’re out in the field, watching over their flock. Often, they would either construct a makeshift pen or find a natural “enclosure” in which to bed down for the night. And the shepherds themselves would sleep at the “mouth” of the enclosure, serving as the last/best line of defense between their helpless flock and the predators who would love to get to them.
It’s late at night. The fire has burned down. Since this is 1st Century Palestine, there isn’t a lot of what is called ambient light- light “spilling out from a town or city. In other words, it’s dark. Suddenly, unexpectedly, an angel appears to them, shining resplendent like the noonday sun. They are, understandably, terrified. And the angel replies like angels in the Bible seem to ALWAYS reply- “Don’t be afraid”.
The angel then goes on to tell them that he brings, “Good News of great joy”. And did you notice to whom he brings those things? ALL the people. Everybody. It’s NOT just for United Methodists or active church-goers or…whoever. It’s for everybody! And when does it happen? Not next day or next year, but today. And where does this happen? Right where they are- Bethlehem. And what is this Good News? The coming of the Messiah, the Savior, the Lord. And how will they know when they find Him? He’ll be wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger. Who. What. When. Where. Why. And how. All covered in 2 sentences!
OK- so the angel appears to the shepherds. They are the FIRST to hear the news. Not the rich. Not the titled. Not the powerful. The shepherds. It’s scandalous. Out of ALL of the people who could have been the first to hear, it’s more than a little shocking that it would be THESE guys! The guys at the bottom of the food chain. The plankton of the Ancient Near Eastern world. That part is indisputable. The question, then, is why? If you had news that you wanted to “get out there”, who would you tell first?
We all have that “reliable source”- someone who always seems to know what’s going on. If you have a question about someone or you want to know more about something that happened, you go to them. You also know that, if you have info that you DON’T want to get out- you DON’T tell them! On the other hand, if you have news that you WANT to spread, you go STRAIGHT to them!
Am I saying that the shepherds were gossips? No. I AM saying- they were ready. They were awake. They were up. They were active. They were the ones- really, the ONLY ones- who were receptive at that particular time and place. Their response confirms that fact. They drop everything they’re doing and head over to see what’s what about you know what. What seems like, on the surface, a terrible group of people to be the first tell this Good News of great joy which is to all people turns out to be the only logical choice!
So, the question is this- are you ready? Have you made yourself fully available to God’s Good News of great joy? God tends to not call the equipped so much as He equips the called. In other words, He looks for those who have made themselves available, calls them…THEN equips them for every good work. If you’re waiting until you “have everything together” to step out in faith and fully commit to following and serving God…it might be a long wait (It’s akin to waiting until you can actually afford kids before you have any! If that’s your approach to parenting…hope you like rescue cats!) This Christmas, refuse to simply sit on the sideline, watching others actively engage. Step up in faith. Get out of the boat. Jump into the deep end. Whatever metaphor resonates with you- be like Nike and just do it. The One born in Bethlehem isn’t looking for the richest, the strongest, the most powerful. He’s looking for those who are available. Who are at the ready, willing to get in over their head and help make a difference. This Christmas, join the ranks of the lowly, scandalous shepherds- receive the angel’s pronouncement, go and see the Baby and then…tell others about what’s you’ve seen, what you’ve heard and how it’s changed your life!