Have you considered that Christmas might be more about shattering stillness than securing it? Hear me as an introvert, who loves quiet moments. Travel with me for a moment to the hillside outside Bethlehem over two thousand years ago, where sheep are resting in the dark, shepherds are settling in, and the stars are overhead.
Frederick Buechner imagined the shepherds in the scene this way: “Night was corning on, and I was terribly hungry. I had finished all the bread I had in my sack, and my gut still ached for more. Then I noticed my friend, a shepherd like me, about to throw away a crust he didn’t want. So, I said, ‘Throw the crust to me, friend!’ and he did throw it to me, but it landed between us in the mud where the sheep had mucked it up. But I grabbed it anyway and stuffed it, mud and all, into my mouth. And as I was eating it, I suddenly saw—myself. It was as if I was not only a man eating but a man watching the man eating.
And I thought, ‘This is who I am. I am a man who eats muddy bread.’ And I thought, ‘The bread is very good.’ And I thought, ‘Ah, and the mud is very good too.’ So I opened my muddy man’s mouth full of bread, and I yelled to my friends, ‘By God, it’s good, brothers!’ And they thought I was a terrible fool, but they saw what I meant. We saw everything that night, everything. Everything!
“Can I make you understand, I wonder? You have been working hard all day. You’re dog-tired, bone-tired. So, you call it quits for a while. You slump down under a tree or against a rock or something and just sit there in a daze for half an hour or a million years… Then, little by little, you begin to come to, then your eyes begin to come to, and all of a sudden you find out you’ve been looking at something the whole time except it’s only now you really see it—one of the ewe lambs maybe, with its foot caught under a rock, or the moon scorching a hole through the clouds. It was there all the time, and you were looking at it all the time, but you didn’t see it till just now. That’s how it was this night, anyway.” (1)
Stillness as contentment. No noise means no worries. All is calm. We all settled down for a long winter’s nap.
Can you just begin to imagine how life-changing and night-shattering it was when the angels filled the sky? When the good news of the birth of Jesus Christ was proclaimed to these still and sleepy shepherds? A colleague of mine, Rev. Andrea Brown, penned this modern retelling:
“Now, there were some laid-off auto workers who were up late, working as bouncers outside a local bar. And a messenger of the Lord stood before them; they could feel the presence of the Lord all around this person. They were terrified! But this messenger said to them: “Don’t be afraid. Just listen: I’m bringing you good news of great joy in which all people will share. Today, your Rescuer is born in the city of David. This baby is the Leader—capital L—the one we’ve all been waiting for. And, here’s how you’ll recognize him: You will find him swaddled in a blanket and lying in a cardboard box.”
And suddenly, there was, along with that messenger, a whole, unearthly flash mob, praising God in song and dance, saying: “Glory to God in the highest. And on Earth, peace to all people: For humanity is God’s delight!”
When the messengers went away from them into the sky, the ex-auto workers said to one another: “Let’s go see what has happened—this news that the dancers told us.”
So, they went quickly, and what they found was Mary and Joseph, with their child lying in a cardboard box! Seeing this, they blurted out the amazing story of what had been told to them about this little one. The autoworkers returned home, talking enthusiastically about God and telling everyone in their neighborhood what they had seen—which matched what the flash mob had told them.”
God’s way is shocking and befuddling. The whole scene is unusual. In a world in which we are advised to look a certain way, act a particular way, and talk in a refined manner, God chose a poor young girl, whose very affirmation invited a scandal in the mother, Mary. God chose a sad sorry town that had no hope of being gentrified or vitalized for Jesus’ hometown, Nazareth.
God chooses shepherds and out of work auto workers to announce this incredible news. Who is worthy to be in such a scene or to hear such incredible news?
This is just like our God. The God who shatters our stillness and preconceived expectations to bring bigger hope and wider love for all people. How often are we like the shepherds, not sure exactly, why we were awoken? Not sure exactly why we had a glimpse of God breaking into our world? Not sure exactly why our hearts were touched with emotion, moved with compassion, or ached with longing. But somehow, we are the ones whom God is using and moving through to share good news. Standing there rubbing our eyes, and saying, “Well…. Okay.”
So, the shepherds, the laid-off auto workers, they went. They went to worship the Christ child. They went to check it out! And then, their lives were changed! They had to tell everyone. They had to share good news that is not just for us, but for the whole world.
God, is shattering our still moments. God chooses us to tonight to share the good news of a great joy. Tonight, God chooses you. Unlikely as you might be. Whether you fought with your family on the way to church or are planning to spend time by yourself. Whether you get excited about talking others about God or break into a sweat thinking about the possibility.
As the angels shared the good news with the shepherds and laid off auto workers, so does God call each of us. For the shepherds, the angels began with reassurance, do not be afraid. Don’t sweat it! You got this. Even though you were not expecting God to show up, God was expecting you!
Tonight, the angels come again to shatter the stillness. Good news, friends: Tonight, Jesus Christ, son of God was born for you. Christ was born for all humanity is God’s delight. Tell everyone. Do not be afraid shepherds! Christ the Lord was born for you!
This is the gospel of Lord Jesus Christ, thanks be to God, Amen.