Good morning everyone. 

Before I start, shall we have a moment of prayer. 

Father, we thank you for the opportunity to hear again the familiar story of your Son Jesus coming to earth. Help us to hear you speak to us anew.    Amen.

It’s the third week in Advent, we’re half way to Christmas!  Does it seem like that to you?

This morning brings it closer as we hear part of the story of the shepherds.

We think of shepherds as being relatively uneducated, though some would have been traders too. The culture at that time was varied, Jewish at heart, but ruled by the Romans.

Did the shepherds have any idea of the Jewish teachings, of the awaited Messiah? We don’t know.  They probably knew of their feast days, everybody loves a party. COVID restrictions makes us so aware of this!

Our reading begins with the shepherds on probably a bitterly cold hillside, wrapped up in their cloaks, staring into the embers of a fire, when suddenly a strange being appears, surrounded by a great glow of light. 

It was terrifying!

The angel started, as many angels do, with a reassurance: Do not be afraid. I wonder if that much effect on them! 

He begins his message: I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 

Good news? What’s not to like about that! 

And joy, a gift. I wonder if they’d heard the Jewish people talking about everlasting joy recorded for us in Isaiah 35, or the Psalmist singing for joy recorded in Psalm 63. 

The shepherds may have found joy in the midst of creation through the seasons, the sun, moon and stars in the sky, new birth every spring.  And the news wasn’t just for them, it was for all the people, their mates, the traders in town, people in the next villages ….

The angel goes on.  Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.

So it’s in Bethlehem, not so far away.  But then the heart of the Good News, a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  I wonder if they really understood the concepts of a saviour, the Messiah, the Lord.  Lord may have been the most easily understood, maybe the only one understood.

What is amazing is that God entrusted this people shattering, earth shattering news to this little band of shepherds out in the countryside. Most were simply experts in, well, sheep, not the complexities of Jewish teaching, or used to hearing from angels.

They may not have understood much of what was said, but still they were entrusted with this knowledge, and it was for them to tell it to others.

Thankfully, the angel then became much more practical.  There’s a sign of proof of his message in the form of a baby, wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. 

Well, a baby was an understandable thing, but how was this tiny baby in a manger also Saviour, Messiah and Lord? 

As if to underline the message a whole company of angels appears in the sky, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heavens, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”

This adds God and heaven to the mix, more ideas for them to grapple with, but earth is mentioned too, they could relate to that bit.  Peace on earth would be good, but “peace on whom his favour rests”?  I wonder if they connected it with the joy the first angel mentioned.

Those shepherds had been given the most amazing, precious, people changing, earth changing news the world has ever known!  Treasure for sure, and looking at those shepherds, it was treasure placed in clay pots –a picture Ben talked about a few weeks back.

The words of this passage are so familiar to us that we often don’t stop to think of how significant the message was then, and still for us today. 

That Saviour was born for us, he stands in our place to bear the weight of our sin, and the sin of the whole world.  He was sent by God from his highest heaven and God longs for his favour to rest on everyone, that there may be peace.

As we look at the world around us just now with COVID; Brexit; many people losing jobs, income, businesses; others so busy they hardly have time to draw breath; wars in Syria and Ethiopia; melting of the Arctic sea ice: don’t we long for God to rest his favour on us, that there may be peace, work and security for all, honouring of the natural world.

How do we respond to the message of the angels? Are we one of the ones on whom God’s favour rests, that we may not only know peace, but be part of the way to peace for all. It sounds big, but it starts small.  The Lord never overwhelms us, but he longs for us to listen to him. 

Back to our Bible reading.  What about the shepherds, how did they respond?  Well, as they used to say at the end of radio soap operas, “Stay tuned next week when we hear the next exciting episode”.  You may remember how it works out, but next week Matt will help us understand more fully what to make of it all!

So let us take a few moments to think about the angel’s message, and how it speaks to our hearts.  Are our hearts truly open to hear God’s message, even if, like the shepherds, we don’t totally understand it?  A moment to reflect.

And a prayer.  Lord, as we hear the familiar words of your arrival on earth, help us hear your message for us in our hearts.  Make up the shortfall in our understanding, and help us to consider our response once again.