Christmas Eve -- Guess What Happened In The Field Tonight
December 24, 2017 Pastor: Rev. Lloyd Gross
Verse: Luke 2:8
GUESS WHAT HAPPENED IN THE FIELD TONIGHT
by: Rev. Lloyd Gross
Tonight we're visiting with our Mother. No, I don't mean the Virgin Mary. As wonderful as she was, she's not our mother. Our Mother is the Church. We are spending this evening with Holy Mother Church. Being her children makes us the most blessed people in the world. She takes us by the hand this evening to lead us to the manger of all mangers. She shows us a newborn Infant, and gently tells us Behold, your King. So is this a history lesson? Be sure that Mother Church wants her children to know their history. But there is more here. She wants to tell us that history contains a mystery. The Light shined in the darkness. That is history. It shined into the darkest corners of the world. That is also history. But it also illuminates the deepest corners of the human soul. That is the mystery. We are familiar with many of the details -- prophecies, arrangements, shepherds hearing the original message. Mother Church remembers these well, even though they happened some thirty years before she was born. She knows them now and wants to teach them to us.
At first this most holy night was like any other night for those shepherds. They punched the clock, picked up their staffs, and went out into the field to watch somebody else's sheep so that the owners could get a good night's sleep. The Bible does not say what time of year this was. We don't know that it was cold. What we do know is that these men were at the bottom of the pecking order. Minimum wage night shift, and no choice about it. There were plenty of sheep. Jewish worship called for the sacrifice of two a day. They milled around eating grass, while the shepherds gathered in little bunches to talk. But this was no ordinary night. Before the shift was over, they would all run off to Bethlehem on company time, and come back hoping all the sheep were still there. How long did it take. Probably more than an hour, perhaps even two. Had anyone asked what they were up to, they would be at a loss. None of them had ever seen a Christmas pageant. How do you tell your boss that you had to go into town to look at a baby?
Incredible as it was, they had all done it together. Each looked at his fellows and knew that they had all seen and heard the same things. They all saw the angel, heard his message, and found the Baby. They were stuck with the truth. What really happened was so different it is most unlikely that these practical men could have made it up. They knew what they saw. In this case, being illiterate was an advantage. If they were readers, they would have tried to make what happened fit in with what should have happened. In this case they had the Gospel. So even as Jesus was born, they were born again by the power of God's Word.
The angel of the Lord came upon them. His words came from the Holy Spirit. The words were not all that strange. These were Jewish shepherds. They knew what the city of David was, they knew Israel was expecting a Messiah, the term "Savior" meant someone who would deliver them, and "the Lord" was God's name as they pronounced it. They might not have known the prophecies, but this Baby was fulfilling them. The Holy Spirit was revealing to these minimum wage people the plan God conceived before the foundation of the world. It was being worked out where they could see it. The Baby was lying in an animal trough, but He was God's chosen One to deliver mankind from sin and death. The angel told them to look in the trough, so they did. These men were included in God's mercy. Not only was this Baby the Messiah, He was their Messiah. He came for them. Did they believe it?
These grown men left their positions of employment to run into town in the middle of the night looking for a baby in a cattle trough. All of them, not just a disgruntled few. Now I realize angels have a way of making you take their words seriously, but that doesn't answer all the questions. Why didn't the angel wake up the townspeople, or go tell the High Priest? We might as well wonder why Jesus wasn't born in the day time, or in a better place. St. Paul tells us why. God chose the weak and humble things of life to reveal His mighty eternal purposes. He would tell the shepherds, and let them tell everybody else. The townspeople would hear it from minimum wagers running around the streets while they were trying to sleep. For a brief moment those shepherds were the Church. Where was the kingdom of grace that night? Among those shepherds, and perhaps the six-month-old Baptist and his parents. But these shepherds were the key to the notification chain. The angel told the shepherds, they told everybody else.
Everyone was amazed at what the shepherds said. Wouldn't you be? The glory of the Lord was shining. The angel made it shine right on these shepherds, then God made it shine again through their words. Roles had been changed. They were the angels now. The Good News had all of its power, the power of the Holy Spirit vibrated through their proclamation, and it shone into the darkest corners of the world. The Light of the world had been born. All the little artifacts are gone. The shepherds' staffs have fallen apart, the manger has crumbled into splinters, but the mystery has not changed. It sweeps over us, including us in the mercy of God. This mystery leads us to the cross, where we can fall on our knees in adoration. I do not mean the historical cross, decomposed and recycled many times since. I mean the Gospel of the cross, the story of our redemption, Christ crucified and risen on the third day. He was this very Baby grown up. As we follow the Church Year into Lent and Easter we will concentrate on the next part of this mystery, namely, that the darkness did not overcome the Light. Tonight we want to come to the Light as it first was revealed in the Judean night, to behold God Incarnate to be our Savior. He is here for us. The heart of all history is this holy mystery. AMEN.