“A Shepherd’s Nightlight”
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
It is dark and it is quiet.
It’s been dark and quiet for more than 400 years.
God hasn’t spoken to His people since the days
of Malachi the prophet.
Does it seem strange to you that Christmas
would start out to be a night affair?
I mean, after all, night is associated with bad things.
Supposedly, nothing good happens at night.
Most of our crime occurs in the darkness of night.
The darkness of night symbolizes the darkness that
takes place in one’s heart.
When we find ourselves shrouded in darkness,
our natural instinct is look for the light…
some glimmer of hope.
And, Christmas, my friends, is a night event.
And the proof can be found in the hymns that we sing.
“O Holy Night.”
“While Shepherds watched their flocks by Night.”
There is no doubt that Christmas happened at night.
The Gospel Lesson for this evening tells us how
Love came down from heaven to earth as a
newborn baby laid in a manager.
The prophet, Isaiah, had foretold of that night when he said,
“Those who walked in darkness have seen a great light.”
And on that night, the shepherds were the first to know
about the birth of the Messiah.
In the quiet darkness of night, they saw an angel…
then a whole choir of angels…
as night became as bright as midday.
The shepherds were the first to hear of the miracle of the Messiah.
And unless the angels had told them,
that night would have been just like every other
uneventful night with the sheep to tend.
The good news was heralded in such light and sound
but the world had yet to see and hear.
The shepherds were told that the Messiah had been born!
And if that weren’t enough,
the angels also told the shepherds where to find the babe
and how to recognize Him.
Of course, without this information,
the shepherds would not have had this experience.
Even today, without that information,
our Christmases would not be the same…
or even the way we celebrate them would be different.
Do the younger members of our congregations
know what really took place on that Christmas Eve night
in the fields outside of Bethlehem?
Some of our non-churched neighbors may have some
difficulty explaining why Christmas is observed
…because we all know about Santa and
how Santa is coming to town.
And some of us may celebrate Christmas by reading
“Twas the night before Christmas” or even watch
Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol”.
Our problem is that secular songs and stories often
clutter up or even completely cover up the
angels’ message of Jesus’ birth.
And if the good news of Jesus’ birth is covered up,
how can it be a meaningful experience for us?
One of the amazing things about this Christmas account
is to whom the good news was given by the angels.
For a king’s birth…
…one might think it would be announced to the
top strata of society…
to government officials…
to the religious leaders of that day.
But no! It was not!
It was given to shepherds!
SHEPHERDS! Of all people!!
In the time of Jesus’ birth,
“shepherds” were the dregs of society.
They were the bottom of the barrel.
There was no class lower than they.
They were the poorest of the poor…
…despised by the rest of society
they were considered ignorant…illiterate…
and often associated with cheating and stealing!
But, my friends, isn’t that the way God often works?
God loves the poor…
…the despised…the unworthy ones.
After all, God used two virtually unknown peasants…
…Joseph and Mary…
…to be the earthly parents of God’s SON…
AND allowed His Son to be born in a stable and
laid in an animal’s feeding trough.
And that in and of itself is the good news for all of us…
because each of us is counted with the unworthy ones…
…those unworthy shepherds…
…we unworthy sinners.
God used those shepherds that night…
just as God used Moses to lead the Israelites out of
their bondage…a Moses who was a murderer.
God used a king called David to be his greatest king…
…David, who too, was a murderer and adulterer.
God used Saul to spread his church…
…the same Saul who persecuted Christians.
And God can use us, too…
…as we look at ourselves in our own sinfulness and
ask ourselves, “What have you found in us that you
dealt with us so lovingly?…
…a gift so gracious
…a grace so amazing that you should save wretches like us?”
And that’s the beauty of this Christmas event…
God loves everyone…even poor, dirty shepherds.
God loves us so much that he sent his love down
on that cold, dark night with such light and sound!
And when the angels announced Jesus’ birth in word and song,
… with their task was finished,
they returned to heaven.
All the light…all the sound…gone.
The still, cold, black, darkness returned
with the silence of the night
unnerving to the men with their sheep.
The shepherds were left standing in the fields…
alone with their sheep under the stars.
Had this all been a fantastic dream or was what they
had just experienced real?
The angel had told them where to find the babe and what
the Messiah would be wearing.
The shepherds decided to go to Bethlehem.
They needed to know the truth of this matter.
They needed to know because this was
a stupendous announcement!
…a once in a lifetime experience!
After all, how many times in your lives have you experienced
an angel with a western union message like this one?
This is an astounding message!!!
After centuries of silence, God had broken through with a message.
At last, the silence was broken…
from the complete darkness came light…
and there they were…SHEPHERDS…
not holy men, not kings,
not prophets…but SHEPHERDS.
And when the silence was shattered…
those shepherds heard that in Bethlehem…the Messiah…
the long-awaited Savior…was born.
And that long awaited savior is
none other than God’s anointed one.
In this Savior, God has come to earth as a human.
The fullness of God comes in the form of a helpless baby.
The infinite becomes the infant…
The Holy One takes on our sins for us.
The promise of centuries has been fulfilled.
Emmanuel …God is with us…as a human being.
It is the miracle of the Incarnation…
the miracle that enables all other miracles to happen.
The shepherds had to check out the message that
the angels had given to them.
They had to see it for themselves…
…to see that it was true.
At once, they started walking to Bethlehem.
After all that the shepherds had just seen and heard…
it would have been the natural thing for them to do.
So, the shepherds went to look for the
Messiah in the manger.
And what did they find?
Exactly what the angels told them they would see.
They found that the angel’s message was true.
Mary and Joseph were nearby the swaddling clothed baby
in the manger.
They had not brought one gift to give…
…but their hearts were filled with awe and reverence…
…at the presence of God’s gift to humanity.
And that, my friends, is about all one can do when confronted
with the glory and majesty of God Incarnate before
one’s own eyes.
“O come let us adore him, Christ the Lord”, we sing.
This is what I think Christmas is for…
…for the adoration of the mystery and miracle of the
All the gifts…all the decorations…all the shopping
…all the Christmas specials…all the vacation breaks…
take a back seat to this.
What are the shepherds to do with this great experience…
…with the message of the angels…
…with the Christ child?
They heard the angels.
They saw the Christ child.
There was a reaction and a response.
They just didn’t turn to one another and say,
“Well, hey, there’s something you don’t see everyday.”
“Well, that was nice.” “Let’s get back to the sheep.”
“They made known the saying.”
They made known the good news that the
Messiah was born…
…with joy they told all they knew and
what had happened to them.
Today, we would call this evangelism…
…it is telling others about Jesus…
…this wonderful gift from God…
…this gift that forgives us of our sins and
gives us eternal life.
And this is good news for us even today…
for us who are still walking around in the darkness.
How many of our friends and family seem to still
be walking around in the darkness?
If you were walking around in the darkness of sin…
having to feel your way around the black void
of your life…afraid to die…
wouldn’t you want to hear about this Messiah
…this gift of God?
God gives us the miracle of miracles
that ultimately becomes
the sacrifice that dies for the sake of humanity.
Christmas, therefore, is a time to worship God.
God deserves the thanks
for the magnificent gift
bestowed on us that night.
God deserves our praise for the gift of his love given for us.
The angels sang, “Glory to God in the highest”
…because God made Christmas possible…
…and, because of God’s gift,
we have life…we have love.
What more could we want?
What more could God give?
So, my friends, yes Christmas started out as a night affair.
God sent his only Son into the darkness of the world to
Jesus came as the light of the world…
...to dispel the darkness of sin.
We no longer need to fear the dark.
We no longer need to fear death.
We are standing in the light of God’s love.
God’s greatest gift given that night.