Now, picture this. You live in a world where light pollution does not yet exist. You’re out in the country and there are no cities around with bands of light on the horizon and there are no yard lights dotting the landscape around you. LED flashlights are 2,000 years off. It is dark. Unimaginably dark to our eyes. You’re a shepherd and you’re keeping watch over your flock. How the shepherds do this in the dark I’m not exactly certain unless maybe when the moon is full. It’s seems almost like kind of a plot hole that we’re told they keep watch in total darkness, but I digress.
You’re out in the darkness doing your job of keeping track of sheep, protecting them from who knows what manner of danger that you can’t see. When all of a sudden there is a flash of light in your face. Like when somebody takes a picture in the dark and the flash goes off. Like when somebody walks up to you and turns on an LED flashlight right in your face. What’s your reaction to these unexpected blasts of light in your face? Does a sense of peaceful contentment come down upon you? Are you hearing soft music in the background as you close your eyes in a very zen kind of moment? I don’t know about you but I tend toward something a little more dramatic that likely includes screaming, swinging, and running.
For some reason, the shepherds don’t do that. They likely had some blood pressure rising and they may have screamed just a little bit but those tidbits about their reactions didn’t get written down. One way or the other they were terrified, and understandably so. It’s not every day you get visited by an angel with the glory of the Lord shining around them. And then note the first thing the angel said to them. Don’t be afraid. Not, ‘hold up fellas’. Not, ‘chill out guys’. Just simply, don’t be afraid. The angels presence calmed their hearts and took away their fear.
And then, a heavenly host showed up, praising God and saying, 14“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” That’s like when the kids have been in the car and the radio comes on full blast, the blinker is blinking, and the wipers start smearing your windshield. Do the shepherds scream, swing, or run? No, they stayed put, surrounded by the presence of the Lord.
Once the angel and the heavenly host had left the shepherds relaxed for a bit and settled in for a long winters nap. Oops, sorry. Wrong Christmas story. Though you could this happening, couldn’t you? After the night they’ve been having it wouldn’t be unreasonable for them to try to calm down and put it all behind them. Instead, once the angel and the heavenly host had left, the shepherds got together and head down to Bethlehem.
Once they were at the stable and in the presence of the new born Christ child, “lying in the manger… they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. Look at the impact of the shepherds on the people around the newly born king. Their story amazed all who heard it. And Mary treasured all their words as she pondered them in her heart. Their story and their presence had an impact on those around them. What started out in fear has come full circle in amazement to those gathered.
It’s an old dynamic that still applies today. I’ve seen it play out in lots of places. There is a meme flying around Facebook these past few weeks about various teachers saying that when students come back from Christmas break they tell their teachers stories about the things they did and who they did them with. They may tell their friends the tales of cool toys and gadgets and share laments with their buddies about the disastrous clothing choices that landed under the tree. But the impact on the student’s lives happens from presence the received, not the presents they unwrapped.
So it is for most of us. Oh, we can love the presents we unwrap. No worries about that. But it is the presence of others our souls crave. Just as Mary and the others around Jesus responded to the presence of the shepherds, we too respond to the presence of those around us. Christ’s presence matters to us and our presence matters to others because we may be the presence of Christ to them.
Talk about presence!
Here’s why Christmas matters. Sure, it’s the day we get together and share presents and all but it is also the day that God came to be present with us. God joined humanity in the person of Jesus Christ and changed the course of history. No longer would we need to fear God’s mighty right hand because we’ve sinned. No longer would we need to fear human masters using our failures to control us. Just as the shepherds were at peace in the presence of the angel, so can we be at peace in the real presence of God in Christ that surrounds us.
Remember that real presence when you are afraid. Remember that real presence when you come to the communion table. Remember that real presence when you Bring Christ’s Love to Life.
It’s Christmas. Talk about Presence!