A Shepherd’s Story
The following is the text used for the sermon on the 2nd Sunday of Advent, December 9th, 2018
Many thanks to Dianne and her son Luke (imagine that!) for playing the roles of Angie and Shep!
I’ve had the words from Silent Night rolling in my head for a couple of months, ever since we decided to make it the foundation of our Advent season. Today is all about two things, the shepherds and the star. I bet you could have guessed about the stars part just by looking around the sanctuary, and it plays a major role in today’s sermon but for now I want to focus on those shepherds, sitting in their fields ‘by night’ as it were.
You know it is interesting that the shepherds only appear in Luke. In fact only Matthew and Luke actually talk about the birth in a descriptive way at all. In Matthew we have the wise men, in Luke the shepherds. John and Mark both leap forward to the start of Jesus’s ministry, skipping the birth entirely.
And so we are here in Luke with the shepherds and the angels. I am thinking that it went something like this…
Narrator: The shepherds were probably asleep, on their bedrolls when the ruckus of the ‘heavenly choirs’ woke them up. I am betting some of them thought they were still dreaming. Maybe one of the angels, we’ll call her Angie, came down to talk to a shepherd…. we’ll call him Shep.
Angie: Hey, how are you doing?
Shep: Not too bad.
Narrator: Now, most of us, at least in the US really don’t want to enter into a dialog when someone says “how are you.” We’ve come to accept that this is just a standard greeting, not an invitation into a conversation about our own personal dilemmas. We really don’t want THAT conversation. In French when you greet someone you typically say ‘Bonjour’ as in “good day” and the response is right back, “Bonjour.” But, sometimes even the French get caught in the next step of the conversation, they say, “Ce Va?” with a questioning inflection. It literally translates to “It goes?” Again, they typically also don’t want a dialog about your latest day at work, your love life, or anything else, and the expected response is “Ce va,” again… “it goes.”
But this is an angel we are talking about here and so I think regardless of the language an answer like “not too bad” or even ‘ce va’ is going to just lead into a more direct conversation.
Angie: “not too bad? That’s what you’ve got, that’s all? Is something troubling you?
Shep: What? No, I mean yes, well no I mean “I can’t complain.”
Narrator: Angels, not being the best at the nuances of language, might not follow the subtlety of “I can’t complain” thinking that well, they work for God and of course you can complain, at least to God if no one else.
Angie: Well, what do you mean, not too bad then? Is your life one of misery, have some ailment, are you losing too many sheep to the wolves?
Shep: No, it’s just an expression. I have a good flock, I am not sick, my wife likes, well loves me. I do have to sit out here in the field in all kinds of weather but that’s just the job. It’s just a job, every day of the week….
Narrator: The angel might have seen an opening here, I mean they are God’s messengers after all…
Angie: Wow, that doesn’t sound like you are really fulfilled at all. I don’t hear any enthusiasm at all in that response. You sound like you are disappointed in your life. Is that true?
Shep: No, well yes, well maybe a little, but I am pretty happy with my life, I mean I have my shepherd friends and I have a wife and we hope to have children and the wolves aren’t too bad this year.
Narrator: I wonder if at this point the shepherd is really hoping he really is sleeping and that this pesky angel will just fade away when he wakes up. I think sometimes that’s how it is for all of us too. You know, how many times have we answered that question with ‘Not too bad?’ How many times have we said “OK” but meant “just barely OK?” How many times have we been afraid to really answer that question, to go down that rabbit hole? So instead we say “not too bad” or “fine” or “OK” and hope that the conversation will switch to something else, the weather, the Red Sox, politics, anything but about our own lives. But we know how this story goes about the angels and the shepherds so we know our angel is not about to leave Shep to get away with his ‘no too bad’ answer.
Angie: So Shep, can I call you Shep?
Shep: Sure, what-ever
Angie: So Shep, can we be a little bit honest here about your life? I’d like to ask you again how you are and have you really answer me. Can we do that together? I mean, how often do you get to talk to an angel anyway?
Shep: Well, that’s true, unless I am dreaming and if I am well, then answering honestly won’t matter… sure.
Angie: Great! Let me ask you it this way… What meaning do you find in your life…. right now?
Narrator: Let’s make sure we understand this situation here. Our angel, Angie, has come to Earth with a task from God, get these shepherds to Bethlehem. She is here in our dramatization to bring a little reality to the situation for us today. I mean, if you were somewhere and an angel started telling you “go to Bethlehem” would you go? What was it that happened that sent the shepherds on their way? What would it take to send you to seek the Christ child this Advent? Would you be prepared to answer Angie’s question? “What meaning do you find in your life… right now?”
Shep: Wait, that’s not what you asked me before!
Angie: Yes it is… I asked you “How are you doing” didn’t I?
Shep: Well, yes.
Angie: And you said “Not too bad” didn’t you? You didn’t say anything about how well you were doing, only bad, right?
Shep: OK, yes that’s about right. But, meaning in my life? I’m just a shepherd. I tend sheep. I get up and go to work each day. I kiss my wife goodbye and go chase my sheep all day. Sometimes I am out here for days. What meaning is there in that?
Angie: Exactly why I asked it!
Shep: What? Wait, you already knew about my life then?
Angie: Shep, I AM AN ANGEL after all.
Shep: Right. Well, I don’t know what meaning I am supposed to find in being a shepherd.
Angie: So, if I am hearing you right, then you feel a bit empty? That’s why you gave me the empty response “Not too bad” then?
Shep: In a way, yes. I mean what is this all about, life I mean?
Angie: Thank you for your honesty Shep. Now I am going to give you something, something wonderful. It is why God sent me to you and the other shepherds this night of all nights. It’s why we sang the songs to wake you, this night is important. You have something to do. Tonight you need to go somewhere.
Shep: You came here for me, for us, from God? God sent you?
Angie: That’s my boss!
Shep: Wait, you want us to go someplace and leave our sheep and then what happens when we get there?
Angie: You are going to find a couple in a manger that has just had a baby.
Angie: Well, that’s it, the rest will take care of itself. But I promise you, you’ll find peace, you’ll find new hope for your life, you’ll see such abundant love and feel joy like you’ve never had before.
Narrator: By this time the neighboring shepherds, who had been having a similar conversations with their angels were coming over to Shep. They all looked equally skeptical and puzzled, and just a little bit worried. I wonder if we would be even as receptive as they were? When we first heard about the birth of Christ, did we go running to the manger or did we hold back? Do we hold back even today, on this second Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Hope? Do we hold back from hope that we might find meaning? Have we stopped looking for joy and love and peace?
Shep: OK, I’ve talked it over with my fellow shepherds and we can manage a journey. And if it is as important as you say, important enough that God sent you, how can we really refuse? Besides, what have we got to lose? Now, how do we get there?
Angie: (laughs) Well, that’s the easy part! Look up into the sky, do you see that star (she points to the lit star in our sanctuary)?
Shep: Yes, I see it.
Angie: Good, just follow it.
Shep: What? Are you serious? I mean, you come here in the middle of the night making a big noise, asking crazy questions and then promising something so amazing that I can hardly believe it and now you tell us to follow a star? Walk at night, stumbling through the fields, following a star? How will we do that? How will we even know once we get to this manger you talk about? How….
Narrator: Ah, poor Shep. He was so close to finding what he really needed in life but then as soon as Angie told him how to get there he slipped back to his old ways. Isn’t that the same for us? We get close to Christ, maybe we feel God’s grace in our lives for a brief moment and then as soon as someone says that to get deeper, closer to God, you are going to have to do something. Maybe it isn’t a follow a star, maybe it is praying daily, reading the bible, coming to worship, giving to the church, serving those less fortunate… following your own star through the darkness, trusting God, believing in Christ. We stop and stumble on our own fears. We start thinking about all those other things in our lives and eventually the sky clouds over as a result and we once again lose sight of our star.
Angie: Shep… I think all you need to do is follow what you feel in your heart to follow that star. Close your eyes for a minute.
Narrator: (whispering) I think she means all of us…
Angie: Now, look for that star, with your eyes closed. Can you see the bright light still there? Can you feel the love and grace flowing from that star? Can you sense that finally, you are headed in the right direction? And here’s the big one… can you trust in God to keep you safe on your journey to the manger? (a pause here)
Angie: OK, now open your eyes. Tell me, aren’t you tired of that answer, the answer you gave me when I came for you? That answer “not too bad?” How would you like to be able to answer “wonderful” or “fulfilled” or “loved by God?” Is that important enough to follow that star?
Narrator: And we know what Shep and his fellow shepherds did next, don’t we? They got up, they gathered their things and headed towards that star. They had no idea how far. They had no idea how easy or rough the journey would be but they knew that what they would find in that manger would be worth it.
And now this Advent it is the same for us. Your angel wants to come to you and tell you to let go and follow that star, to find the newborn baby lying in a manger. Follow that star and take a chance that your life will be filled with peace like you have never known, follow that star to a future of love, joy, and hope beyond anything you have ever imagined.
Still the night, Holy the night,
Shepherds first saw the light,
Heard resounding clear and strong,
Far and near, the Angels song,
Christ the Redeemer is here, Christ the Redeemer is here.