Phil Cox

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Coxy's Christmas Message 2010

23rd December 2010

Why shepherds? Shepherds were hardly considered respectable in those days. They were working men, but they weren’t known as honest working men. They had a reputation for being a bit careless with the truth, so much so that they were forbidden to give evidence in court. And many thought they were a bit indiscriminate with other people’s property – a bit light fingered, you might say. But the angels appeared to shepherds.

You might have expected the angels to appear first to the Sanhedrin – the ruling council – or at least to a group of Pharisees, respectable people, religious people, maybe in a prayer meeting. But the angels appeared to shepherds.

Maybe God sent the angels to shepherds to show us that God cares about ordinary people like you and me.

Any why THOSE shepherds? What was so special about that particular group of shepherds? Nothing, probably. Maybe God sent the angels to those shepherds to show us that we don’t have to be perfect for God to care about us.

Did those shepherds even believe in angels? Probably not. After all, most people don’t. Do you? But they came to believe in angels when they met them. And so would you. If you had an experience like they did, it might affect you they way it affected them. Perhaps you don’t believe in God, but you would if you met Him. Is that possible?

It was night when the angels came but I suspect the shepherds were in the dark spiritually as well as physically. It’s doubtful that they knew – or believed – much about God, or about the Messiah. And many people now are in the dark – they don’t know if there’s a God or not. They don’t know what He’s like. It’s strange that many people who are agnostic about God seem to have very strong views – about the afterlife, for example. Where do they get those beliefs from? And why are they so confident about them?

When they met the angels, the shepherds were terrified. Well you would be. But when the angels started speaking, many things became clear to them. The angels brought GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY. The shepherds wouldn’t have been used to hearing good news of great joy. For them, each day was much like the last – hard work, working and sleeping in the fields, distrusted and disliked by the community, slowly getting older. But that night, something life-changing was happening. The Kingdom of God was breaking into their lives. They were discovering that there is more to life than working, sleeping, rejection and boredom! And this good news of great joy was FOR ALL THE PEOPLE. This news would affect us all. It would be an open invitation to anyone who chooses to believe it.

And here it is: “Today in the city of David a Saviour has been born to you”. Someone who could take away our dirtiness and failure and make us beautiful. Someone who could take our grey lives and make them colourful and vibrant. Someone who could take our loneliness and the despair we feel when we realise how little we achieve, and make us children of God.

This saviour is CHRIST THE LORD. Yes, the Jesus you probably heard about when you were a little child. The Jesus so scorned in the newspapers and on the television and at your workplace. The Jesus whose name is used as a swear word. The Jesus who is so often the last person we turn to when we want to find God and the truth.

He’s been there for you all along.

And the angels gave the shepherds a sign, saying “You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger”. Like the visit of the angels to the shepherds, the birth of Jesus was not grand, but was designed by God to show us that Jesus comes for the poor and the underprivileged, as well as for the wealthy and successful. He was born in a stable, and spent his first night in an animals’ feeding trough.

Jesus comes for ordinary people like Joseph the carpenter, and Mary the teenager, and the shepherds, and me, and you.

And the shepherds hurried off to Bethlehem to see Jesus. They entered the room in which the Son of God had just been born. They saw the Lord of all creation lying asleep, or perhaps crying, or feeding. They were in the presence of Christ the Lord. And they were welcome. The sign was not so much the baby, or the cloths, or the manger. The sign was that THEY would see Him - the shepherds would see God and would be welcome. And me, and you, if you’ll come and see for yourself.