1In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3All went to their own towns to be registered. 4Joseph 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. 5He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. 7And 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.
8In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
15When 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.” 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
What makes one break a routine? What is needed before someone does something against the usual life pattern? Although it is fashionable to break the rules and do things that are contrary the mainstream expectations – usually even the bravest moves that we manage to do, are a bit - if not well calculated and socially tested endeavours.
shepherds weren’t usually roaming villages and areas where other people lived because on those places there was not enough grass for the sheep. At the same time they weren’t welcomed by other people. So they lived isolated lives and they grew to avoid people, other than their fellow shepherds. Something in the angles message however was huge enough to break this routine and without hesitating get on their way to the village. The angel didn’t request them to go to Bethlehem, although in some carols we do sing so. No – it was the shepherds’ own response to the good news.
What kind of a message would it have to be for you to leave your workplace without thinking of the consequences? What would make a bus driver step out from a bus and leave passengers in, what would make a teacher leave kids in the classroom and walk away? Or a pastor step out from the pulpit in the middle of the sermon on a Christmas Eve? The angle’s message “to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord,“ was so powerful that the shepherds needed no further advice of what to do next.
As modern readers of this story, we may get an impression that this message came out of the blue. But although Shepherds were ignorant people, they knew, everybody knew, what this was all about. This was something they had waited for generations. In Ancient Israel, this anticipation had been transferred from generation to generation so that it was in their national sub-consciousness. The angle’s message triggered this anticipation to action and they were ready to get immediately to Bethlehem. We, too, have broken our normal Saturday evening routine and come to church. I bet there aren’t many of us who spend their Saturday nights at Church? And there are so many of us here tonight. And there are many other churches around us where people come together to sing and listen about the birth of Jesus just as we do here. What did bring you here tonight? Did you maybe feel some kind of longing in the midst of your silent night, that led you here? Does this happen often to you?
I remember a certain pattern that repeated every Christmas in my childhood. I waited for Christmas very eagerly. I thought that I waited for the presents, because that was the most obvious thing to wait for. But year after year, when the presents were unwrapped, a feeling of disappointment and emptiness crawled in to me. As a child, I understood only that I had expected something else; not better toys or more gifts, but I had longed for something more than what I saw around me. During the year, I always forgot my disappointment and so this feeling caught me by surprise every Christmas. I think, I am not totally alone with this experience, but others, too may feel something similar. At least there is a saying “Christmas is a time when you get homesick-even when you're home.”
Like Shepherds, I think that many of us have a longing to God no matter how we might interpret our being here tonight. We may say that it’s a habit, a nice tradition that we follow, but it might also be that silently we long for God to enter our lives and make something of it – something different. And on Christmas this longing grows even bigger.
Church is or it should be right place to be for everyone, who lives in this kind of anticipation and longing – home sickness, if you want. And I believe that anyone who comes here on a regular Sunday, is coming with longing hearts and asking the Lord to give them something that he or she can’t find in themselves. Here we are looking for peace to replace our restlessness, we need God’s love to melt our frozen hearts; we seek for guidance and mercy in this merciless world.
The shepherds found what they were promised: a manger and a child. This promise of finding what we seek and what we deep down in our need, is given to us, too.