“And the Shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God
for all they had heard and seen.”
It was a very special night for them,
The world was radically changed forever.
God’s glory had broke through the heavenly realms.
A new age had arrived -
and they had a front row seat on the news and celebrations.
The saviour, the king, the anointed one was finally here!
In a matter of hours their perspective had changed
from terrified fear to triumphant praise.
Yes, it was a special night for them.
But I can’t imagine it began that way…
Before the moment that heavens broke open.
It would have been a very normal, lonely and quiet evening.
Shepherding in the ancient world was not an exciting life.
It was an isolating, poor, and nomadic existence.
The work itself was boring and made you unclean.
Imagine camping in in the open air
without a shower or a change of clothes for months on end.
Handle a bunch of filthy animals on a daily basis as well and
then you might imagine the life of shepherd.
The dirt and the smells would penetrate every part of your body.
Yes all that fresh air would definitely be healthy.
But you would not be welcomed in a fine dining restaurant.
There would not be any to be found close by anyways.
Shepherds lived a life of isolation in the wilderness.
They get a lot of down time - time to look up in the sky at night
and time to ponder in the darkness
that in itself might not be so bad.
But the loneliness and isolation is not an ideal life.
This year year I think many of us just might be able to relate to the shepherds,
maybe not the dirt, the hard work and the poverty of it all
but the isolation.
Isolation… it’s not an easy thing to cope with.
Tonight many of us begin the Christmas celebration
like shepherds began that night.
Many of us are living in loneliness and isolation.
We may have time to contemplate the meaning of life.
If it’s not raining we can gaze up at the stars too.
But our isolation is not easy.
This year we are more like the ancient shepherds of old.
I feel that Isolation in my own life too,
but I have a family,
many out there do not.
I feel for the lonely.
They sit in silence waiting for something good to happen.
Waiting for a phone call, a visitor
some one to share their time with.
an announcement from the Bonnie Henry’s of this world
that the Pandemic is over.
It’s not that their lives are necessarily bad.
They may have food and shelter
but human beings do not live on bread alone.
Loneliness disconnects and disorients.
God knows our isolation and loneliness.
God understands the plight of the lonely shepherd.
He has a special place in his heart for these:
the lonely, vulnerable and powerless.
the ones who are ignored by the world.
He has a promise for them too.
a promise of Salvation, of life and connected-ness.
A promise that no matter how unimportant and isolated they are.
That one day, they will be part of a new creation.
It’s the same promise that God has made for all the ages.
“Lift up your eyes all around and see,” says the Lord.
“They shall all gather together and come to you.
Your sons shall come from afar, your daughters will carry their
children on the hip.
and you shall see and be radiant,
Your heart shall thrill and exult.”
“Because the abundance of the sea shall be turned to you
the wealth of the nations shall come to you.” (Isaiah 60)
This is the vision of God’s promise
to address the loneliness and broken-ness of this world.
It comes to us from the Prophet Isaiah
the same prophet that promised
The child whose authority would grow continually,
bringing endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.
This is God’s promise to the world about the world to come.
And Jesus is the fulfilment of that promise.
It’s why we celebrate tonight.
It is also why the shepherds take such a prominent place in the story.
Shepherds in the ancient world were not considered important people.
But they have always held prominent place in the eyes of God.
God has a habit of bringing the lonely and lowly shepherds
of this world into the centre of the story.
Abraham and Sarah were Shepherds -they became the first people of God.
Jacob and the 12 sons of Israel were all shepherds too.
David - the first king of Israel began his career as a shepherd.
If you remember that story,
His father Jesse never thought of his potential for being king
Jesse brought David forward as an afterthought.
But God chose David, a lowly shepherd boy, to be the first great king.
And so it is no surprise that
the shepherds are at the centre of the Christmas story too.
The question is however,
how were these shepherds changed that night
what was it that made the heavens break open so that they
were able to rejoice with the multitudes?
Of course it was the child.
There is nothing like the news of a new born child
to help a human being rejoice.
It was also the news that this particular child would be the one
to save the world.
The irony is of course that it all took place in the quiet of the night
with very few witness and very little fanfare.
The irony is the heavens broke open and the multitude rejoiced
over an event that was ordinary in the extreme.
Children are born into this world every day of the year.
The irony is that the loneliness in the world did not disappear
And yet the Shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God
for all they had heard and seen.
No doubt they were changed.
But their circumstances remained the same.
You know, I think that too is something worth thinking about.
Tonight you have heard the story again.
It is a great story of hope.
But sometimes it’s only the shepherds who have the privilege of really seeing it.
And the reality is we only get to see it on those special nights
When God comes through the darkness
and gives us a glimpses of his light
in the most normal of circumstances of our lives.
Tonight we celebrate the hope that came into this world.
the dawn of a new age that continues to unfold.
And the signs are still there.
Behold, I bring you good news of great joy for all people.
The Christ has come into this world.
So let us rejoice with the angels.
And give glory to God in the highest.
For God has a plan and you are part of it.
His Glory continues to come into this world and by his grace,
your tears will turn into joy.