A SIGN THAT WILL BE OPPOSED
Luke 2:25-35; Luke 2:8-16
The Christmas story is full of angels. Last week we talked about the angels that came to Mary and Joseph, telling each one of them not to be afraid because God was with them. This week the angels show up again…bucketloads of them…singing to shepherds on a hillside and giving them the same message. Fear not. A word about these shepherds.
This summer we talked a bit about shepherds in Biblical times. It wasn’t a popular profession, even though it was necessary. Shepherds lived out in the open fields with the sheep. They lived like sheep, they smelled like sheep. They had to be ever vigilant in a boring job, spending the days and nights watching sheep be sheep, but if a wolf or a lion or a thief came, the shepherd had to risk his life to save the sheep. Letting a lion carry away a sheep was not an option. You had to chase after the lion and bring the owner at least a part of the dead sheep to show that you tried to save it. In the story of David and Goliath, David reports to the king that in his life as a shepherd, he has killed both lions and bears with his bare hands.
And yet for all that, shepherds were not respected. Their testimony was not valid in a court of law. They were down there on the social scale with women and children…worthless except for the profit they could provide. So the first thing to notice in both of these weeks of angelic appearances is that angels are showing up and bringing God’s message to those with little or no social standing. Mary and Joseph were poor, and the shepherds were a disdained class of workers. We don’t have stories of angels showing up at the King’s palace or in the home of the High Priest.
The good news is
brought first to the poor, which is a model of what Jesus will do during his
ministry. Just two chapters later,
before Jesus has even called the first disciple, we see him preaching in the
synagogue in his home town of
But the point is that the angels do exactly what Jesus later says he has come to do…to bring the good news to the poor. Angels come to Mary and to Joseph and to shepherds. And all of them follow the instructions of the angels. Now, just like the message of the angels was potentially threatening to Mary, so it was to the shepherds. They are told to go and find the baby. While we often picture shepherds at the manger with sheep by their side, if you had multiple shepherds out on a hillside, there were more than just a couple of sheep. Likely there were hundreds if not thousands of sheep out there, and they would not all be truckin’ into downtown Bethlehem, which was already so crowded that Mary and Joseph couldn’t get a room.
The angels have
asked the shepherds to leave their flocks unguarded. If anything happened to those sheep, nobody
was going to be rising to defend the shepherds.
Their account of what they saw would mean nothing. In a best-case scenario they would be out of
a job, and if they had harsh employers, it could get ugly indeed. But the angels say, “Do not be afraid.” They do as they are told, abandon the sheep,
and head for
What I want you to
see in these familiar Christmas stories is that they are filled with
foreshadowing of Jesus’ ministry. Here
where Jesus is born in a borrowed stable, we are reminded of Jesus later saying
to his disciples, “Foxes have holes, and birds have their nests, but the Son of
Man has nowhere to lay his head.” The
good news is brought specifically to the poor and marginalized, just as Jesus
will later emphasize. And it is not too
long before the Gentile astrologers we have come to call the “Wise Men,” notice
the signs and leave the court of Persia to find Jesus, a mirror of Jesus saying
that the Gospel would begin in
Those wise men,
when they come, are naďve. In realizing
a new king has been born, they assume the old king is going to be pleased about
the news and will know all about it. So they
go to Herod’s palace to ask where to find this new king. Well, kings who are still on their throne are
not really fond of new baby kings, unless it’s a baby they have sired. So the misplaced trust of the Magi results in
a gruesome act by a King who history tells us was notorious for his
cruelties. King Herod orders the
slaughter of every child under two years of age in and around
Of course Mary already knew that. In the beautiful poem we have come to know as The Magnificat, Mary speaks of the ways of God when she says, “He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” While the lowly and hungry cheer the coming of justice, not everybody feels the same.
Mary is reminded
of that when she and Joseph take Jesus to the
From the very start, it is obvious that the life of this little baby is going to be challenging, inspiring, and controversial. The poor, the oppressed, the blind, the outcast…they would love him. The rich, the powerful, those with status and means…they would oppose him. It’s all right there in the Christmas story.
not go drifting off into a Hallmark card at Christmas time. It is a time of joy, yes, but not for
all. The good news that comes with a
baby in a manger is that justice has been born.
I read Jimmy
Carter’s new book recently. He makes it
clear why the coming of the
Tsunami? There were about 200,000
fatalities in the eleven nations struck by the tidal wave. However, every single month 165,000 die of
malaria, 140,000 of diarrhea, and 240,000 of AIDS. $2.50 per year from each American and
European citizen could eradicate malaria and save the lives of almost 2 million
people a year. The annual
Ah, but it
has. It came 2005 years ago. Smelly, ignorant shepherds got excited and a
poor teenager avoided stoning for adultery because her poor carpenter husband
dared to believe angels. Together with
foreign astrologers they welcomed the Kingdom to a ratty stable. Warned by angels they fled the cruel
slaughter of King Herod and then brought the Kingdom back to
But they didn’t
succeed. The religious authorities came
after him with increasing venom as Jesus went about proclaiming the good news
to the poor…the good news that the Kingdom had come among them and for
them. Eventually the Kingdom was
betrayed and crucified…but even that couldn’t keep it from coming. On the third day, he rose from the dead and
the Kingdom was even more powerful than before.
Still it was a sign that was opposed.
It spread across Asia Minor and into
And it still comes
today. In the same way. With the same message. And the same opposition. The question is not whether the
What if this
church, right here in Westford, worked to convince every citizen of the
Away in a manger, no crib for a bed…
Foxes have holes and birds have their nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly.
The Spirit of the Lord…has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.
Fear not. For behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy that shall be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
This child is
destined for the falling and the rising of many in
$2.50 a year. A year, for God’s sake.
Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth.
Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Sermon © 2005, Anne Robertson
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