Originally delivered at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension, Lafayette, Louisiana
Moving here from Dallas, I’ve enjoyed such a different relationship to local, national, and even international news. There’s a much greater focus on what’s happening on the ground here, locally, in our area, rather than out there, in the greater reaches of the world. Of course, things in the past year like the invasion of Ukraine have loomed large even in our eyes and ears here, but if Boris Johnson, the UK Prime Minister, has had any more wine and cheese parties, I have no idea – and I really don’t care! It’s so freeing to keep the main thing the main thing in so many ways here.
But here’s my question for us tonight: would we have heard about Jesus’ birth? If Jesus were to come again in as quiet and small and unimpressive a way as he did the first time, are we in a community, in a text thread, in an environment that would have known right away about Jesus’ arrival?
Surely we would want to get that sort of news as soon as possible, right? We don’t want to be behind the ball on the arrival of God in Jesus Christ! Don’t leave us out of the news alert of this birth! But the first time around, to whom did the angels go? Where did the heavenly host appear to announce this holy birth?
It will not surprise you that the shepherds were not the, erhm, most desirable crew in the first century. They were the farm hands, the stinky, 24/7, low-wage workers. The heavenly host showed up to the farm hands. The angels told the hourly contract workers first. When God came to earth, the people on the margins knew first.
What would it take for us to be part of the communities that got this sort of news first? One way is providing coats and warm clothes to refugees. Another might be providing food for people who are food insecure. How else might we, secure and privileged as we are in so many ways, form real, lasting, sharing-news sort of relationships with people who are today’s shepherds?
It’s a big question with no quick and easy answer. But here’s my challenge to you this Christmas night. What might it take for you to have a clearer answer, an embodied practice, even, by Christmas 2023? Assuming that we want to be part of the communities that would receive the news of Jesus’ return first, how could we sit with, and learn from, and make friends with, and build relationships with, these people who may feel uncomfortable at first, but might also be God’s chosen people to reveal himself to us? How might our hearts be transformed and transfigured in 2023, if we humble ourselves just a modicum of the way that God did by coming in Jesus Christ, poor newborn of a young mother and a carpenter?