Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, October 23, 2018
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Christmas Eve

Luke 2:1-20

I just recently heard a story about a British painter named J. M. W. Turner. Turner worked mostly in watercolors, and he was well known for his stunning paintings of sunsets. One day, a man said to him, "I’ve never seen sunsets like the ones you paint!" And Turner replied, "Oh, but I wish that you could." Just because you have eyes doesn’t mean that you can see.

The Bible tells us that God is always at work in the world around us. But not everyone has eyes to see it.

There were many people in and around the town of Bethlehem that night, as the town was crowded for the census. But only a group of shepherds were given the privilege of seeing the wondrous thing God was doing in their midst. Anyone else who looked just saw a young couple, from out of town, who had the misfortune of having to travel for this census while she was pregnant. And unfortunately, the baby came and there was no place for them to stay, so the babe was just laid in a manger. Sad, yes. Unusual, certainly. But significant, meaningful, wondrous? No, not to anyone except those shepherds.

It may be both ironic and appropriate.

The irony would be that shepherds would not be the people you would expect to be present at the birth of a king. Shepherds were necessary to watch the flocks in the fields, but they were not well thought of in polite society. Because of their lifestyle, living out in the fields and the wilderness so much of the year, they were not able to keep all the little rituals and requirements of the Law. So they were looked down by the religiously observant. They frequently came into contact with non-Jewish people, whom pious Jews tried to avoid them as much as possible. In short, these shepherds were "unclean," ritually, and probably also, literally. Not the people we’d expect to greet the newborn Messiah.

But it may be appropriate. Bible scholars have pointed out for centuries that the "Temple flocks," the sheep raised specifically for use as sacrifices, were kept near Bethlehem. It was only a few miles from Jerusalem. So it may be that these shepherds who day by day kept watch over the sacrificial lambs were the first to see the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Their response? They praised God. Those with eyes to see God at work in the world find worship to be a very natural response. If you see God at work, you want to praise him. But those who do not have eyes to see God at work tend to find worship unusual. "Why should I worship God? What has God done to deserve it? I’m just making my own way in the world."

But God is always at work. He creates life. He sustains life. He leads us to the truth. He reveals himself and makes his will known to us. He binds up our brokenness and he heals us and restores us.

Do you see what God is doing? Are you aware of his activity in and around your life? Do you find worshipping God to be easy, natural, the "obvious" thing to do?

The other response of the shepherds is to share what they’ve seen, to make known what God is doing. They become evangelists. Oh, we get so intimidated by that word! We hear evangelist, and we think of Billy Graham. But the word evangelist simply means one who tells good news. God is at work. He has sent a Messiah, a Savior to us.

Evangelists help others to see what God is doing. The blind can’t lead the blind. People who don’t see God at work can’t help others to see him at work. It has to be someone who has seen and experienced God at work who talks about what he’s doing.

I read an observation recently I’d like to share with you. This person wrote that we love the Christmas story because we want to go to Bethlehem. We want to see the star in the east. We want to hear the angelic choir. We want to walk with the shepherds. We want to see that "Christmas card" picture of Mary and Joseph looking down lovingly at Jesus in a manger, surrounded by the "gentle beasts." Why do we want to go to Bethlehem? Because for a moment, we want to escape real life and go to a place of peace on earth, goodwill to men. We want to believe in something good and beautiful.

The problem is that real life is the very place where we need to share God’s message of peace. The biblical idea of peace is wholeness, wellness throughout our being. Real life is where we need to share a message of joy, knowing that no matter happens, God is for us, and has good plans for us. Real life is where we need to share a message of goodwill, God’s grace and favor to the brokenhearted and downtrodden and heavily burdened. In real life, in our homes, our schools, our workplaces, our neighborhoods, people are dying for a lack of peace and joy and goodwill.

Christmas can’t be an escape from the real world. It must be a message of good news for the real world. A message carried by evangelists, bringers of good news. God is calling you to be like those shepherds: To see him at work and to praise him for what he does and to share it with others. God is not calling you to go to Bethlehem to escape from the world. God is calling you to take Bethlehem to the world.

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