Luke 2:1-20
4th Sunday of Advent
Elizabeth M. Deibert

How can we capture the amazement of this season once again? It is so easy to get lost in the hustle and bustle of creating “Happy Holidays” that we forget that this is Christmas. Christ’s Mass. The greatest of day all of days, the day when God entered our humanity, became one with us. There are many reasons for our love of Christmas – family memories, musical concerts, favorite foods, festive lights, an excuse to shop and throw parties, but the real reason for this season is this amazing gift, the one that Mary wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger. There is something amazing about Almighty God becoming a helpless, little baby.

Let’s unwrap the brightly colored, excessively consumer-oriented, tinsel-covered holiday and discover the real gift of Christmas – the real amazement of this Gift of all gifts. Before we read the story which will be read countless times all around the world this week, let’s stop and think for a moment about how odd this story of the Incarnation really is. An unwed young mother, Mary, a virgin, visited by an angel. A devout fiancée, Joseph, who hung in there despite all the glares from others. It’s good he listened to the voice of God coming through his dreams, telling him not to abandon Mary because ancient law allowed for her stoning. And this child, given by the Holy Spirit, must be carried in the womb, all the way from Nazareth to Bethlehem. That’s no a walk around the park. That’s a walk from here to Tampa. No wonder the poor girl went into labor.

Part of the amazement of the nativity for us is the idea that the Son of God was
born not in a neonatal unit but in a room full of animals. But actually it was pretty normal for them. We learn from linguistic scholars that the inn may not have been the stable of a first century Motel 6 but the upper part of a regular house. The lower part was where the animals came inside at night for protection. So Jesus was born in ordinary conditions – not extraordinary – in an ordinary house, in the lower part of the house, where the animals came for food and rest at night.

I think the most amazing part is that the first birth announcement went not to
important people but to a bunch of migrant shepherds! Let’s hear the afresh the story of the humble birth and be amazed with the shepherds who received first news.

NRS Luke 2:1-20 In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn. 8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see-- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.
This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger." And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!" When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us." So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Luke tells us that an angel of the Lord with the glory of the Lord shining all around dares to stand in front of some Jewish sheep-herders and make them the first human beings on earth to hear the news the a savior has been born, that Israel’s Messiah has come? Why not somebody important? What about Emperor Augustus, doesn’t he need to know? Or Quirinius? Or the chief priest?

Or a Pharisee or scribe? Or, how about having it first announced during worship at the Temple. At least the angels should announce to Mary and Joseph themselves there after the delivery. They had been visited by angels, but not by the multitude of heavenly hosts. But the angels visit shepherds. They are beyond amazed. They are scared, terrified. But the angel insists that they should not be afraid, because it is good news. Prior to this in Luke’s story, the verb “feared” came from the angel commanding NOT to fear (1.13); from the angel Gabriel to Mary commanding that she not fear (1.30); Jesus as he calls James, John, and Simon commands that they NOT to fear their career change to catching people (5.10); Jesus tells Jairus NOT to fear that his only daughter has already died (8.50); Jesus commands his fearing disciples NOT to fear dying as they proclaim the Gospel, but instead He tells them to fear losing their soul by not proclaiming it (12.4-7); Jesus COMMANDS his disciples NOT to fear giving up all material goods to gain the Kingdom of God (12.32).

As I read this passage to Gretchen this week, this verse was her favorite.
The angel said to them “Do not fear, for I bring you good news of great joy which is for all the people.” No one left out here, the news is for all the people.

And the angel continues: “This will be a sign for you: you will find an infant, wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.” A baby, some rags, and a feeding trough. That’s what the angel of the LORD standing in the glory of the LORD gives some no-name shepherds as the evidence of the greatest news ever brought to this world. “The shepherds hurry to the feeding trough, and there, they bring the amazing news to Mary and Joseph. Can you imagine the sense of relief and confirmation for them. How many times did they wonder if they were crazy for listening to angel voices in the night. Confirmation they receive: This ordinary baby is the ultimate sign of God’s favor for humankind — Savior, Messiah and LORD all rolled into a sticky, wrinkly newborn” lying in the dirty hay. Amazing.

So the shepherds resolve to go and personally see what the Lord has MADE KNOWN to them (2.15), they in turn immediately MAKE KNOWN to others that the Incarnation has happened in an infant (2.17)! And all who heard it are amazed. I have never noticed this verse before. Who was there? People in the house, people in the neighborhood, animals, Mary and Joseph. All who heard it were amazed.

The shepherds’ revealing of the Incarnation begins to happen right here in this scene, because Mary herself hears it (2.19)! It’s as if they immediately begin to tell about it to whomever is around. That’s what happens I guess when you have a terrifying and amazing experience. When you share it, others are amazed too.

Let’s think about the faithful actions of the shepherds. They see and hear. Shepherds are not so preoccupied, so busy with their own sense of self-importance. They have time under the stars to listen for the voices of angels. Do we? They have a spirit of openness to being amazed by the work of the Lord. Do we? The shepherds do not hesitate to go, as the angels told them. They do not form a committee to study and explain this appearance of angels. They do not make a long range plan to visit the child at some later date. They apparently do not even worry about their sheep. They had experienced a life-changing visitation from the heavenly hosts, so they were amazed and went hastily. Apparently, they left a lot of sheep behind, because anybody knows you can’t go somewhere fast with a bunch of dumb sheep. Sheep were their livelihood, but when the angel of the Lord spoke to them, their work became secondary to seeing the infant King. Would ours?

The shepherds saw, heard, and obeyed. (Look at the amazement on their faces.) Are we so quick and so uncalculating when God speaks to us? Or do we stop and make a more sensible, reasonable plan. Would we have dropped our work and gone to a barn in some little town to worship an humble new baby born to a poor young couple? Would we dare to imagine that the Son of God would be born to us under such conditions of poverty and embarrassment?

The shepherds were the very first evangelists. They told the news which they had
received and all who heard it were amazed. In the telling of the news, amazement happens to others. What might have happened if the shepherds had been too busy to hear angels, too distracted to see visions of heavenly hosts, too calculating about their income to sacrifice the flock by traveling so hastily to find the baby? I suppose God would have found someone else who had time to be amazed. Could God have come to you? Would you have had time to see and hear, to be amazed enough to go? Could you have been one of the first evangelists, telling the good news of great joy which has come for all the people? Speaking of amazement creates amazement.

In their courageous, naive amazement the shepherds found confirmation of the message the angel had brought them. In their courageous, naive amazement they were able to be the first visitors to the newborn Savior of the world. Because of they had time to see and hear and go, they observed first-hand the helplessness of a God, who chose to come among us as one of us. As the story of Christ’s life unfolds in Luke’s Gospel, there is more amazement. Mary and Joseph’s AMAZEMENT at Simeon’s prophesy while holding Jesus (2.33); the home-town folk’s AMAZEMENT at Jesus’ first sermon in Nazareth (4.22); the disciples AMAZEMENT at Jesus’ control over the storm (8.25); the crowd’s AMAZEMENT “at all that Jesus was doing” shortly after He healed a boy (9.43) and after he healed a mute man (11.14); Peter’s AMAZEMENT at finding Jesus’ linen clothes in the empty tomb (24.12); the disciples’ AMAZEMENT when they saw and touched the risen Jesus’ bodily wounds (24.41) after the walk to Emmaus.

I hope that as you busy yourself this week wrapping and unwrapping gifts, you will make time to unwrap the real presence of God who comes to bring peace to all people. Immanuel, God with us, comes to all of us and is not ashamed to live with us in the dangers and the desperation of life. The amazing marvel of Christmas morning is that God’s power is made perfect in the weakness of an infant child. Will you take time see and hear the angels voices and be amazed? Will you go to Bethlehem to bow before the supreme gift of Christmas - the presence of God in a humble child?

If you can lay aside your fears and be amazed and share your amazement with others, you will find yourselves like the shepherds, returning to your life after this celebration of his birth, glorifying and praising God for all you’ve seen and heard. Our presents for one another bring pleasure for a season but God’s presence, the real gift of Christmas, brings peace for a lifetime and beyond.