12/24/2013 sermon: Angels and Shepherds

Location: Church of the Resurrection, Alexandria, VA
Text: Luke 2:1-20
Christmas Eve II

Angels and shepherds

In our gospel passage, Luke tells us that tonight is a time of angels, and a time of shepherds.

We know about angels; we believe in angels. A Christmas-time poll commissioned by the Associated Press just two years ago revealed that nearly eight in ten Americans believe in angels, even four in ten who are not religious.[1] According to the poll, people who worship regularly and people who are older believe more in angels than do atheists and youngsters under 30. Chances are that you believe in angels.

Yes, we LOVE angels. I read a cute Christmas book last year about three angels who were mentoring an apprentice angel.[2] This was no scholarly tome. In fact, the angels were named Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy, and the apprentice angel was named Will. As in, “Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy Will …” (follow you all the days of your life).

Silly as this sounds, the story was rather touching. The three experienced angels had taken their apprentice on something of a celestial joy-ride to earth, where they were having difficulty remaining incognito. I was reminded of this church—Church of the Resurrection—in the story. At one point the angels were at a Christmas concert, where they couldn’t help but join the choir in singing the Christmas carols.

Now, if you know anything about angels, you know they love to sing. And angels’ singing sounds divine, heavenly, even. So when Shirley, Goodness, and Mercy (and even Will) joined that Christmas choir, the people who were listening knew that the music was extra fine, incredibly fine. The music stirred things buried deep those who heard the angels singing. The music stirred the hope for ultimate meaning, stirred the joy that transcends our human frailties, and stirred the longing to join in the ultimate song of praise and thanksgiving to our creator, And in those who heard the angels’ song, something was born anew: peace, joy, and love were born anew, fulfilling all of our human hope.

Yes, we long for a time when we will join all of creation to sing this song: “Joy to the world, the lord is come.”

A jaded heart is required to not feel what all of creation knows: God is born into our world, God is come to be with us in our pain of life, God born to love and to save us from misery and death. No, not every heart feels this joy; not every mind comprehends that life itself death itself, now has meaning: Christ is born among us. Christ has and will redeem us from sin and death. The Christ who is born to us today will come again, right the wrongs of this life, make a new heaven and new earth.

Special hearts are required to receive this truth, lowly hearts, those keeping watch and waiting, as we are tonight. Angels are required to “amp” up our song—Shirley, Goodness, Mercy, and even Will—to bind our hearts together and unite the pain of our song, until we can comprehend the Good News, the Great Joy, that our Savior is born.

We KNOW why angels deliver the message of Christ, born among us. Angels are required because this is the function of angels: to announce God’s messages to us. Angels are required because they sing a song of joy that reaches through our cloak of denial and impels us to sing the God-song, too. Angels are required because we need help to understand that a powerless newborn child is cause for “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”

But, sadly, as I said, not everyone knows this song. Not everyone believes or even can feel this song of life and love and hope and joy. Some are too busy with life itself. Some are too comfortable among their possessions, or their power, or their intelligence, or their power, or their toys, or their power. Some are too broken by the pain of life, the knowledge that we all get old and lose what we love, and we die.

This is why the angels came to shepherds. Simply put, shepherds in Jesus’ day were not the kind of people you would want your daughters to marry. They weren’t ambitious or reliable, or even very successful in life. They generally had more brawn that brains. They also weren’t very religious because they were willing to work on every holiday, every holy-day. And, when shepherds were around, things went missing. Plus, they smelled of sheep.

The angels came to shepherds so that we would know that the baby is Good News for all people. If God chose shepherds to be the first to come and worship the Holy Child, there is hope for you and you and you, and hope for me, hope for everyone.

I don’t know whether YOU are an angel or a shepherd. Truth be told, we Christians are—more often than not—a combination of both: shepherds who are angel-wanna-bes, or angels with a streak of shepherd in us. I invite the angel in you to sing this song anew, “Joy to the World, the Lord is come!” And I say to your shepherd, “O come, let us adore him.”

©Jo J. Belser

[1] “Poll: Nearly 8 in 10 Americans believe in angels.” December 23, 2011, poll for Associated Press/GfK, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/poll-nearly-8-in-10-americans-believe-in-angels/ (Return to text)

[2] Debbie Macomber, “Angels at the Table” (Return to text)

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