*This post is taken from the sermon I preached on December 22, 2013. You can read the full sermon text here.
One thing to note about this biblical story is that it is set at night; in the dark and quiet. And I don’t mean Lawrence nighttime dark and quiet with streetlights and traffic noise in the background. Or even rural dark and quiet with the glow of the house and the hum of heater and appliances. These shepherds were in the midst of first century pastoral dark and quiet. Dark. Quiet.
Then, suddenly, light and singing.
Can you imagine? It’s no wonder the first words out of the angel’s mouth are : “Do not be afraid.”
The angel choir has come to sing a song of Good News. They bring good tidings of great joy for all people! But first, the shepherds have to get over their fear.
The fear comes first, and then the shepherds listen to the song of Good News. And then they go and experience this Good News. And then they go out singing the Good News themselves.
This is the cycle of Christian conversion: to hear, experience, respond, and share. The angels are evangelists–bringers of Good News. And, by the end, the shepherds also become evangelists–in the best sense of the word.
The fear gives way to hearing the song which leads to seeking out the experience which draws out our own hymns of praise. Evangelism. Sharing the Good News of God-with-us in Jesus.
It is the Christmas story. Yes. And the Easter story. And the story of the Church for century after century.
Of course, it doesn’t always happen in a tidy twelve verses, and it doesn’t always follow in nice chronological order.
This proved to be a bit of a sticking point for one of the members of the Leadership Commission when we met for them to approve me for ordination. He asked when I was saved. And I suppose, were I one of the shepherds, I could have said, “Dec. 25, 0 AD/BC, when the angels sent me and my pals to that stable and I looked baby Jesus in the face.” And I suppose lots of people today can answer that question, can name a specific place and time when they heard and responded to the Good News in a dramatic, life-altering way.
But I couldn’t answer the question. I couldn’t–and still can’t–point to THE moment that my fear faded enough for me to listen to the Good News; THE moment when my feet carried me into the presence of Christ; THE moment when I went into the world glorifying and praising God. For me, it’s not a matter of having been saved. It’s a matter of being saved–each day. Over and over. Weaving in and out of the fear with the song of Good News breaking through the static in little bursts of grace.
Of course, I’m speaking metaphorically when I talk about the song of Good News. Sometimes the Good News is literally sung, I suppose. The Good News can also be spoken. Or it can be enacted in any number of ways–in silence, in embraces, in protests, in fresh-baked cookies, in kind glances, in shoveled driveways, in sustainable lifestyles, in open doors . . .
Whatever urges us into the presence of Christ. Whatever sends us running to the babe in a manger, to the foot of the cross, where we see the almighty God made vulnerable in love for us. That is the Good News.
That urging–that sending force–that is evangelism. And we share the privilege of evangelism with those shepherds who were watching their flocks by night so long ago. We share the privilege of hearing the Good News. We share the privilege of encountering the living Christ. We share the privilege of going into the world with a holy song in our hearts, with words of glory, words of praise, words of Good News on our lips.
Thanks be to God!