Our texts for this evening are: Isaiah 9:2-7, Psalm 96, Luke 2:1-20, and Titus 2:11-14.
The hymns are here:
The sermon is here:
It was a dark night – perhaps the darkest they could remember, these simple shepherds watching after their fleecy charges. The stars in the sky provided just enough light for their sleepy eyes to watch the edges of the sheepfold, but not much beyond that. Gentle, sleeping sheep noises graced the dark countryside. All was still and calm.
Suddenly, a light unlike anything they’d seen before blazed in the sky, startling sheep and shepherds alike from their dreamy states! Frightened by the sudden onset of a light that was brighter than the brightest day, the sheep began to bleat and cry out. Afraid, foggy from the sudden awakening, confused by the commotion, the shepherds sprung to their feet and whipped their heads around to see what was going on.
“Fear not!” came a voice that was both booming and melodious, sweet and commanding.
“Fear not?” The shepherd thought to himself, still trying to regain some focus after being blinded by the sudden light. “I was just scared out of my sleep by this crazy bright light and some heavenly voice tells me to fear not?!”
“I bring you good news!”
“This had better be good news after an interruption like this!” thought another shepherd to himself.
“Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.”
The youngest shepherd of the group turned to his older brother and asked, “Did he just say the Messiah!? The one we’ve been waiting for all these years! Has he finally come to rescue us?”
But before his brother could answer, a whole choir of booming, melodious voices burst into full volume singing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” At the witness of the angelic choir, the shepherds knew it must be true. Leaving their flocks behind, they followed the directions of the angels and just as they had been told, they were the first to greet the newborn savior into the world. They were, in a way, the first followers of Jesus – these raggedy men smelling like sheep and earth.
Why shepherds? Why not someone more important, someone cleaner? Someone who didn’t smell like sheep. Have you ever smelled a sheep? Yuck. Perhaps someone more important, someone cleaner, would have considered it a joke to think that the savior would be born in the smelly part of the house where they kept the livestock at night. Perhaps someone more important would not have readily accepted the angel’s message. Perhaps God sent the angels to deliver the message to the shepherds because God knew that the shepherds were ready to hear it. And as crazy as what they heard sounded, they were ready to see the light and hear the choirs and they were ready to search for the Messiah. The Shepherds’ hearts were prepared to receive the message of the angels.
After they visited the holy family, “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” What if they hadn’t gone? What if they had not been prepared for the light? Just think what the shepherds would have missed if their hearts had not been receptive to the message of the angels – if they had not been willing to leave their sheep behind in the dark night and seek out the Messiah that the angels said was finally here?
Isaiah 9:2 says that “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” We too have been given a great light. In Jesus, the light of grace came to illuminate a dark and sleeping world. Grace that saves us. Grace that transforms us. Grace that purifies us. Grace that we could not earn.
The Grace of God offers salvation, transformation, and purification to all even though none have earned it. But like the shepherds, we must open our eyes, our ears, and our hearts to the light. Grace does not beat our doors down and demand entry. It is always there though, within our grasp, even when we turn a blind eye, a deaf ear, and a hardened heart.
We are given a choice – an opportunity. We can choose to continue living in darkness or we can make our hearts receptive to the great light blazing down from heaven. We can choose to stay where we are – in our dark, but comfortable sheepfolds and acknowledge the message, but not move beyond or we can set out, leaving behind our sheep - our doubts and fears, our earthly attachments – and make our way to the feet of the Savior who came down for our salvation.
The waiting is over! The Messiah is here! We do not have to live in darkness any longer! All we have to do is turn our faces to the light, in spite of doubt or fear. The dark night of the world’s waiting is over! Jesus Christ our Savior is born and we no longer wait in the darkness of our sin! Glory to God in the highest!