Luke 2:1-20 (KJV)
In 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.
Seeing Things Differently
Well this whole month of Advent we have been noticing how people see things differently in the build-up to Christmas, and today people get to see Jesus himself. And it reminds me of a day that is etched in my memory for ever. A day when I realized that everything had changed. A day when even my definition of “fun” was altered forever. October 12, 2011. It may not have significance for you, but it means a great deal to me. Any guess what happened on that date?
For those of you who know that I have a five-year-old son, you might think that’s his birthday, and you’d be barking up the right tree, but no. That’s four weeks after his birthday. You see, when babies are born, they are often very tired from the trauma of birth. You might get a week or two of glorious bliss where you THINK you have a relaxed, chill baby. Fat chance. That just means they’re rested up and ready to rock and roll after that. And so on October 12, after two weeks of sleepy baby, now my wife and I had two weeks of not so sleepy baby. My perspective was beginning to change.
Now, there’s another thing you should know. I am a night owl. I once stayed up several days in a row just to see how long I could make it. On my extended breaks in college I would switch to a nocturnal schedule because I preferred to work at night. I used to write articles and make animations for a humor website, and 3am was when the magic happened. I LOVED staying up late. It was so much fun!
But now, on October 12, I wasn’t loving it anymore. There’s a big difference between choosing to stay up late and being forced to stay up late by a screaming parcel of humanity. Out of all the words to describe that experience, one word I would definitely NOT choose is “fun.” And so ever since October 12, 2011, I have seen 3am very differently than I did before my first child.
Seeing Family Through God’s Eyes
Seeing and experiencing my first child changed the way I see my family.
And I bet Mary and Joseph were starting to see their family differently once they saw the baby Jesus. There is a natural sense of responsibility that comes upon you when have a child, but imagine if you were tasked with caring for a future king, or a future president, or, you know, the Son of God. That probably felt a mite intimidating.
I think, finally seeing Jesus, they started to see their family differently. They saw each other differently.
As we near Christmas, as we remember the birth of Jesus, is there any way that God wants you to see YOUR family differently? One of our readings today called Jesus “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” So remembering that the Prince of Peace is born, is there a way that he wants you to find peace in your family? Does Jesus want you to see your spouse in a new light? To parent in a manner that reflects the Everlasting Father? How might you see your family through God’s eyes this Christmas?
Seeing the Outcasts Through God’s Eyes
But, you know, the story of Christmas isn’t just about a family. It’s much bigger than that. After all, who gets to hear the announcement of Jesus’ birth from an angel? Shepherds. And shepherds weren’t exactly well-regarded at the time. They were considered untrustworthy – so much so that a shepherd couldn’t give testimony in court. They were assumed to be liars. Their work with the animals meant they were often considered “impure” and so were barred from entering the Temple. These particular shepherds had to live with a certain irony – they were caring for the animals that would be sacrificed at the Temple, but the act of caring for the animals made the shepherds unable to attend that same Temple. It would be like telling the people who clean our church that they aren’t welcome in worship because the act of cleaning made them look too dirty. That would be crazy. Shepherds were used and cast aside – they were outcasts.
I gained a newfound respect for shepherds after my experiences in rural Texas. I once dated a girl who had sheep and goats, and she invited me into the pen to meet her favorite goat. Male goat – key to the story. As I entered the pen, the goat immediately was perturbed at my presence. So he shook all over, lowered his head – and remember, male goat, so…horns – and charged at me in the confined space. Luckily I managed to grab his horns and toss him onto his back, which gave me enough time to effect a strategic retreat outside the fence, never to return again. Anyone who can work with those animals has my respect. Hats off to them.
But let’s think through this. Mary gives birth in a crowded stable. Now I don’t know about your experience, but after my wife gave birth she wasn’t too keen to have visitors immediately. Let alone a bunch of shepherds, who probably had their sheep with them. If I were Mary, I’d be like, “God, you made people look at me weird due to this miraculous pregnancy. Then you made me give birth in a stable. Then you sent a bunch of SHEPHERDS right after I gave birth! Seriously God?!? Is it April Fool’s Day in heaven or something?”
Now we don’t have a lot of shepherds running around anymore, but who are the outcasts today? Who is looked down on today? What if a bunch of homeless men and women came in right after you or your spouse gave birth? What if a mental health center brought a busload of mentally ill people over for dinner?
The story of Christmas features the poor and the outcast prominently. While kings and priests are sleeping unaware, the poor and the outcast get the news personally from an angel. While the powerful and respected are looking after their own concerns, the poor and the outcast are leaping for joy at the birth of the true king. Does Jesus want you to see the poor and the outcast through God’s eyes this Christmas? Who are the shepherds of today? How might God want you to see them differently as a result of the Christmas story?
Seeing Life’s Blessings Through God’s Eyes
I think those shepherds show us something else, too. Imagine that I told you that this Christmas, you get to spend the whole day outside in the cold. And while you’re outside you’re working a double-shift, no holiday for you. If that were the case for you tomorrow, would you be celebrating or complaining?
That’s what the shepherds had in store for them. They had hundreds of reasons to complain. But how does our text end? “20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” They’re celebrating! They’re praising God! And they’re telling everyone who will listen this good news!
Despite their plethora of reasons to complain, they celebrate the one piece of big, great news they have. They see the blessing they’ve received from God, not just the thousands of imperfections and annoyances they have to deal with. They are on the lookout for reasons to be thankful, not reasons to complain.
I’ve told this story in a children’s sermon before, but I think it applies here, too. I remember one year my brother was all-in for getting a desk for Christmas. He had scoured the options and asked for a very specific desk that had everything he needed. He was stoked. When Christmas day arrived, we both started tearing into our presents, but he was distressed that I had so many more presents than he did. He was done unwrapping everything, and I was still going. Never one to be shy, he aired his grievance to my parents, who responded, “What were all of your presents sitting on?” “The DESK!!!!” He had missed the desk sitting right in front of him! He missed the blessing because he was too busy comparing what he had with what I had.
How about you? Have you been on the lookout for reasons to complain? Where might God be trying to show you the blessing you have rather than the thing you wished you had? What reasons can you find to praise God rather than complain to God?
Sisters and brothers, the great news about Christmas is that we find out once and for all that God wants to be with us. God sees us not through eyes of judgment but through eyes of grace and mercy. Thanks be to God for that. But that also begs the question – who could we see through those same eyes? Who could you see with eyes of grace and mercy rather than eyes of judgment and comparison?
Maybe that’s seeing your family through God’s eyes. Maybe that’s seeing the poor and outcast with God’s eyes. Maybe you even need to see yourself through God’s eyes of grace and mercy. How does God want you to see things differently as a result of the birth of Jesus? Because the birth of Jesus is the best reason to celebrate rather than complain. Amen.