Christmas Eve                                      
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Luke 2:8-15 Sermon                                             
December 24, 2009

Hymns (from The Service Book and Hymnal)::
42 “O Come All Ye Faithful”
27 “O Little Town Of Bethlehem”
23 “It Came Upon The Midnight Clear”
24 “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks By Night”
30 “Angels We Have Heard On High”
48 “What Child Is This?”
25 “Hark The Herald Angels Sing”
16 “Silent Night”
15 “Joy To The World"


TEXT:  "8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 15And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us." 

            What do you want to be when you grow up?  That's a question that people have asked children for ages.  And the answers are frequently based upon what children see as exciting and interesting occupations.  Now I'm not trying to unfairly stereotype anybody, but boys and girls seem to think differently in this area.  Boys will often come up with the proverbial fireman, policeman, cowboy, or even a military occupation.  Girls will frequently choose things like being a nurse, a doctor, a teacher, or maybe something a little less physically demanding.  Of course the choices either sex make will be based upon their own experience and desire.

            As children grow up, their desires become a bit more realistic.  They will take elective courses in high school that will help put them on the road for their chosen profession.  And when it comes time for post-high school education, most people have a particular direction they are going.  It might be one of the many medical fields, or business, or finance.  If a person is more inclined to have a trade occupation, then they might head off to school in Milford to learn something in the automotive, construction, refrigeration, or computer areas.  There are many, many different things people can choose which will ultimately become their life's career.

            What about a shepherd?  As many answers as I've heard given to the old "what do you want to do when you grow up" question, I don't think anybody has ever told me that they wanted to become a shepherd.  Somehow tending a bunch of sheep with nothing else to do seems to be a rather boring dead-end occupation.  It's not the kind of things kids would want to hear about on career day in school.  It's not the kind of career that society sees as very glamorous; in fact it's probably among the more menial jobs out there.

            Have you ever wanted to be a shepherd? Have you ever wondered what it was like on that night? When the still silence of the cold evening air was shattered by a voice that must have sounded like thunder; when suddenly the bright brilliance of the glory of the Lord shone around them.

            What would it have been like, standing there that night with the shepherds? To hear the voice of an angel of the Lord: "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord" (Luke 2:11). To hurry off to see this Child who was born in such low estate, yet born the King of the world.

            Have you ever wanted to be a shepherd? To be honest, I do not know if I would want to be a shepherd. I picture it as a rather filthy job. Leading around a flock of smelly sheep does not sound like a great life to me.

            And shepherds, who were they? They were poor, not folks of noble birth. The were people of low esteem in the sight of many.

            Not much power or honor, and not much glory and wealth in being a shepherd. They did not rule over lands or rule over peoples. They just tended their smelly sheep.

            But, despite their lowly status in the eyes of the world, the shepherds did something amazing that night. The shepherds hurried off, and did so immediately. They did not waste precious moments bickering over the quickest route to take. They did not first rush home to tell their families where they were going. They did not find it necessary to get cleaned up from working in the fields. They did not pack extra food. They did not take a spare set of clothes. They simply hurried off, leaving everything behind, including their unprotected flocks, with no one to stand watch over them.

            And they went because they had to see this thing that had happened. This miracle, the child, who is Christ the Lord born of the Virgin Mary; and there was nothing in the world that could keep them from seeking Him.

            I have always thought that it is very interesting indeed that God chose to first reveal the Saviour of the world to a group of shepherds who happened to be working nearby.  Instead of announcing the birth of the Messiah to those who might seem more logical, like church or government officials, God chose to open up the heavens and reveal a small part of his celestial glory to these shepherds.  The shepherds heard the announcement of the angel, and heard the sound of the whole angelic choir singing, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good-will toward men."

            And so these shepherds go as they are directed.  They go to the manger in Bethlehem to see first-hand the new-born Saviour and King.  They come to see Jesus.

            Have you ever wondered what it would feel to have been there on that blessed night? Journeying with the shepherds to see this Child who was born. Standing out in the fields, tending your flock by day and by night.  The beauty and majesty of the stars in the sky, the peaceful night air, the clouds dancing across the moonlight sky. And not a single sound-only blissful silence while shepherds and sheep are bedded down for the night.

            And then that silence is broken in a way that only God could do.  These shepherds knew without a doubt that God had sent them a special delivery message.  It was a message not only for them, but for the whole world.  It is the same message that God gives to you and to me this day.  And what a message it is too.  As the Bible says, "For unto you is born this day in the City of David a Saviour which is Christ the Lord....Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace, good-will toward men."

            I often wonder if we would be so quick to follow after the Child. Are we prepared to drop everything and hurry off to see this miracle? I wonder if we are prepared for this Child who has come. Are our hearts and minds ready for the infant King?

            Many of us have already spent endless hours getting ready for Christmas: there is the usual list-hanging lights, baking cookies, trimming the tree, shopping for and wrapping gifts, decorating the yard-and the list goes on and on.

            But are you ready? Are you ready for the Child who has come? Are you ready to learn from the shepherds? Are you ready to drop everything and go immediately to see the Child?  David's Son has now come as David's Lord-Emmanuel, God with us, Christ the Lord.

            If we believe we are ready, then we should be prepared for what we will see. As the world has been preparing, the majesty of it all seems to be greater than the Child who has come.

            When the shepherds arrived in the stable to see this glorious Child, they found Mary and Joseph without much preparation. No light. No fire in the dead of the night. Few came to their assistance. The Child was not wrapped in a royal purple silk or even a warm snuggly blanket. He was wrapped in strips of rags, known as swathing bands, which was no more than bandages. He was not laid in an ornate, gold cot, but laid in a stone feeding trough, or a manger. There were no princes and kings standing near to offer their praise and worship; only the cattle lying silent in their stalls.

            That is what the shepherds saw. That is what they hurried off to see. Not glory and power by the world's standards, but the glory of God incarnate in an innocent, humble, and helpless child.

            Do you really want to be a shepherd? Is that what you want to see? Is this the Kingly glory that you desire?

            The shepherds teach us a great lesson: in their simplicity, they simply go. They heard the proclamation of the Lord, and they knew that his Word and promises are full of salvation, even when they appear to be humble and frail.

            When the shepherds had seen the Child, when they had spoken with Mary and knew of his greatness, they went home. They went back to being simple shepherds. Despite the miracle the shepherds had seen, they still had their everyday work to attend to. The smelly sheep still needed to be looked after.

            All of us might think-or hope-that these shepherds would have decided to do something different. They were, after all, the first ones to see the Child. Surely there were people to see and stories to tell. These shepherds had a life-changing experience.  Even though they returned home and continued on with their lives, they still glorified God for what they had seen and heard.  Even though the Bible doesn't say anything about the aftermath, who knows how many lives were touched because of the shepherds' witness?  After all, the shepherds were simple and humble people, but they had seen the Saviour.  And again, in their simplicity, the shepherds teach us so much about our daily life in Christ.

            Maybe all of us should be more like the shepherds. We should hurry off to see this Child; and then when we leave, we come away changed and different because of this Child, changed because of what we have seen and heard!

            This Christmas day we travel with the shepherds to see this King of glory-the King of the Jews-the Child who came to bear our sin and be our Saviour. Yet, with all of our fears and anxiety, even with our sins, the Child still desires to come into our midst. He not only came to us and our world in the manger so long ago, but He still comes to us this day.

            This is the true miracle of the incarnation: that our Lord still comes to us. And He comes in ways that seem humble, weak, and even lowly.

            The Christ Child comes into our midst. He comes in the preaching and proclamation of his Word. For where his Word is-there also is his Spirit. In Hebrews chapter 4 verse 12 we read: "For the word of God is living and active...."  Since God continues to come to us in the words of Scripture, we can be assured that we indeed have a living Word, and not a dead letter.   Through the Word we see Jesus Christ, our new-born Saviour and King, the one who came down from heaven and became human just like each of us.  He came so that we could accept him as our Saviour through the faith that comes from God himself.  

            As part of that Word, he comes through the words of Absolution, where we are assured that God has forgiven our sins and remembers them no more. He also comes through the Word being joined to some simple earthly elements--the water of Baptism, and the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper. 

            These are ways we know that God will come to us. This is how our King comes to us-in ways that the world may never understand.  And with his presence in the world also comes his invitation.  Christ himself offers this invitation as recorded in Matthew chapter 11 verses 28-30: 28 Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."  So now, we not only see him as the shepherds did that first Christmas, but now we can actually dwell with him with the absolute assurance that he will never leave nor forsake us.

            Soon all of the glitter of Christmas will be over. The decorations will be taken down, and life will go back to normal.  What then?  Have our lives been changed?  Do we want things to be the way they have always been with pain and suffering, the boredom and monotony?  Or maybe we would like to go and be with those first shepherds. That's probably the only time in history where somebody would actually desire to have a shepherd's life.

            But we cannot turn back the clock to be with the shepherds, and we do not have to. The Lord invites us to something even better. He has blessed each of us with opportunities to serve him and our neighbor in this life. Instead of leaving here sad that the celebration is over, we can return home, giving thanks and praise that he actually came into this world, so he could be our Saviour.  Through no act of ours, we accept him into our lives through faith alone as we sing "Let every heart prepare him room." 

            Indeed, we can always be thankful that he still comes to us, through his word and his sacraments.  With Jesus in our hearts and lives,  we know the same wonder and joy those first shepherds experienced.  This is something that is not just for this one day of the year, but it is always ours as we celebrate the true meaning of Christmas each and every day of our lives.