Christmas Eve: First to Shepherds

Christmas Eve:  First to Shepherdsirene

December 24, 2012

Luke 2:1-20

“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields,

keeping watch over the flock by night.”

Irene Bennalley  is a Navajo shepherd.[i]

There have been Navajo shepherds in New Mexico for centuries.

Twice a year these shepherds move their flocks.

In June they move away from the scorching heat of the plains

to the cooler meadows mountains on the New Mexico-Arizona border.

Four months later, in October, they make their way back again.

Most of the shepherds these days are women (or immigrants).

They wear tee shirts and sweatpants and wide-brimmed hats.

There are some dogs who come along – less helpful as herders than to keep predators away.

The women lead the animals from behind,

and Irene instructs a new shepherd – “Keep them together but don’t rush them.”

From June through October, Irene lives in the fields,

keeping watch over her flock by day and by night,

staying in a one room cabin with a wood stove, a propane burner, and no electricity or running water;

she may not see another human being for a week at a time.

Irene Bennalley is a shepherd.

I wonder what she would think if she was awakened one night by an angel?

Did you notice that of all people God could have chosen,

God chose shepherds to hear the good news first?

God chose shepherds to see and hear the angels.

God didn’t send the angels to the innkeeper

who gave Mary and Joseph a place to stay (albeit a rough one!)

for the night.

God didn’t send the angels

to any of the merchants in town

who were in a better position to share the news with others.

God didn’t send the angels to the synagogue.

God didn’t even send the angels to Mary and Joseph.

There were no angels over the stable that night.

Mary and Joseph had to hear it second hand – from shepherds no less.

Shepherds who were at the bottom rung of the social ladder.

Shepherds – the lot of them in Jesus’ day said to be lying thieves who couldn’t get any other respectable work.

Shepherds who didn’t keep the Sabbath – because of course they had to work.

Shepherds whose very jobs made them ritually unclean.

Shepherds who were shunned by society.

Shepherds who were isolated from the world.[ii]

Shepherds who had been shamed and abused so often and by so many that many began to believe it.

Shepherds who began to believe that there was something wrong with them.

Shepherds who had given up hope of a brighter future.

And then God sent angels.

God sent angels to shepherds, to the very people who needed to hear good news the most.

The angels spoke to them – first!

the angels gave them the good news that

despite what they saw around them,

there is hope, there is light, there is healing.

The angel said, “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

To you oh shepherds…

As we hear these words spoken to us this day in worship,

we too sing “Gloria”

because we know that God still chooses

to speak these words first

to the people and in the places who need to hear it the most.

God speaks first in shepherds’ fields;

And God speaks first in homes and cities where families are grieving –

in Newtown, CT and in Webster,NY

God speaks first in homes which are chaotic and confused;

God speaks first in homes torn apart by divorce or drugs, abuse or alcohol.

God speaks first to those who need to hear it most.

The angel says,

To you is born this day hope, light, and healing.

God speaks first in hospitals and nursing homes and rehabs;

God speaks first on the floors of churches where the homeless stay by night

and in cars in the parking lots where they wait by day;

God speaks first in army barracks and refugee camps,

and wherever there are those far from home;

God speaks first in prison cells and detention centers;

God speaks first to those who need to hear it most.

The angel says,

To you is born this day hope, light, and healing.

God speaks first to those whose hearts are burdened by doubt or fear.

God speaks first to those who were too sad or anxious to come to worship today.

God speaks first to those who are missing someone who should be here today.

God speaks first to those who need to hear it most.

The angel says,

To you is born this day hope, light, and healing.

God speaks first to the shepherds.

Irene Bennalley is a shepherd.

I wonder what she would think if she were awakened one night by an angel?

One of her fellow shepherds was asked the question and said,

“I would like to hear (sic) an angel.

I have not yet.

But I hope that I will have enough faith that I will hear (sic) one some day.”[iii]

Oh you shepherds….oh all you who need to hear the words of an angel this evening…

Listen:

To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”

Amen

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