December 25, 2018
“A Life Changed: The Story From One Shepherd”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
You’ve got it all wrong!! All this stuff you do at Christmas is all wrong. I saw a sign outside this one guy’s house that read, “Santa Stops Here.” Is that what this is all about? Santa? How about a sign that would shout, “Jesus Stops Here!?” I like that a bunch better.
Larson says that you pay him to work one day a week and he started counting and found out that he has already worked two days this week, and he’s not going to work three days in a week, especially three days in a row, so I’m filling in for him.
I’m Joe, a shepherd who was working between Bethlehem and Jerusalem on the night when Jesus was born. A number of us shepherds had brought our various flocks together that evening – we’d do that every so often, maybe some of us could get some rest while others watched our sheep, and then we’d stay up and let them get some rest while we watched theirs.
But that evening no one got any rest. That is what I want to talk to you about. I want to talk about the real Christmas and how it changed my life.
Being a shepherd was an honorable profession. It wasn’t easy work. You didn’t get any days off. No vacations. The pay didn’t make any of us rich. But look at what we provided. Sheep provided food to eat and milk to drink. Their wool kept us from freezing and you could cover your tents with their hides. And of course, most of the animals that we were caring for were animals to be used in Jerusalem for the sacrifice for sin. What we did benefited the lives, in one way or another, of all of Israel.
But this wasn’t a one-sided marriage. Yes, we needed the sheep, but the sheep needed us. Sheep are not aggressive, they have a hard time defending themselves, they constantly need some care and supervision. They needed us for protection and safety and guidance. It was a good relationship – we needed each other.
Ah, let me get to the point I’m trying to make: the “Jesus Stops Here” point. We’re watching sheep and in an instant we’re not watching sheep anymore. An angel, bigger and brighter than anything I’d ever seen suddenly appears in the sky and starts talking. “Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be for all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11, KJV, of course)
Fear not?? Are you kidding? You see, right after the one spoke he brought all his buddies with him and they filled the sky. They started singing. I never heard anything so beautiful in my life. But there was no getting away from our knees shaking and our heart trying to break through our skin. I thought – this is like the time when Moses was out in the desert and the bush was on fire but it wasn’t consumed. Or, the time when the children of Israel were in the desert and God gave them a pillar of fire at night. This was holy ground and I knew it. This was God telling us that the world was changing. And I was changing.
It is amazing that God sent that angel, and angels to us. Did you hear what he said. Fear not!! Good tidings of great joy!! Unto you is born a Savior, Christ the Lord!! When the 10,000 voice choir started singing they spoke about “Peace on earth and good will toward men.” There’s this guy who lived at the same time as me who wrote this, “While the emperor may give peace from war on land and sea, he is unable to give peace from passion, grief and envy. He cannot give peace of heart, for which man yearns more than even outward peace.” (Epictetus)
The angel was telling us that His peace, the peace that came from this Christ was going to be a peace that would overtake our heart. Everything would be in His hands, our mind, our souls, today, tomorrow and even forever. I can see why he told us not to be afraid, why this was such good news and that we would be given a peace of heart.
But here’s the kicker, here is why this changed my life so dramatically – He said that when you go looking for this Christ this is how you’ll know that you have found Him, “And this shall be a sign unto you: You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:12)
What? A baby? You folks live in your fantasy world of Super-Heroes. They can leap tall buildings in a single bound, they are faster than speeding locomotives, they have arms of iron and can send a spider’s nest from their palms and glide from one skyscraper to the next. But the angel told me to look for a baby. In a feeding trough. This would be the one who would change the world and change me.
I find it amazing that when God wanted to do something great and monumental, He did so in humble ways. This caught my attention. You know that I am a shepherd, Joe the shepherd, and you know that we were not the elite in society. Though we could provide the animals for sacrifice in Jerusalem we weren’t allowed in. They wouldn’t have a thing to do with me, but God came right to us, to me. A humble God came to a humble man. Let me tell you that changed me.
But I’m not the first one that got changed by a God that would lift us up from our lowly place. Do you remember where we were told to go to see this baby in a manger? Bethlehem. David’s city. David, once high and mighty was brought low by his own choices. He couldn’t stay away from the ladies. Got one of them pregnant. And she was already married. He felt he couldn’t come clean of it all, so he had to try to cover the sin with more sin. Murder. Lying. Then depression hit and grief that was unbearable. Shame. Regret.
We were going to his city, the City of David – Bethlehem. But God didn’t leave David in despair. He brought him out of the pit and forgave these damming sins. I was going to a town that spoke about a humbled heart and a lifted soul.
Then we saw Him. The baby. It says that right in your Bible, right? “They hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:16) Do you know what I found out about this baby? He became a shepherd. He would later tell everyone “I am the Good Shepherd.” I was a good shepherd. I cared for my sheep, my flock. But He was talking about shepherding me and you, and the whole world. He is the one who would say, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.” “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 11:14-15, 27-28)
He changed me. The angels, the message, the humility, the hope. But what is most amazing is that I wanted others to be changed as well. It says right here, “When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.” (Luke 2:17)
You probably know this, but maybe you don’t. Nobody knew what happened that night except me (and my buddies, Jeff, Jim and Jerry). Do you know how this got out? Luke, the guy that wrote this down for you, came to me, took his pen and paper and got the first- hand account. (Check out what he says in Luke 1:1-4, if you’re wondering about this.) I got to tell him and he got to tell you.
What do I want from my visit with you today? I want you to know the truth of that night. I want you to know that it changed me, forever. And I want it to change you forever. You need a shepherd. You need to hear, “Unto you if born this day in the City of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord.” You need to know, “Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy.” You need to be convinced that God has brought “peace on earth and good will toward men.”
Put a sign in your yard, or under your tree, telling the world about the truth that changed the world – “Jesus Stops Here”.
Jesus changed me. He has changed you too. Amen!!