Advent(ure) of the Shepherds

Advent(ure) 4 Today we begin, what is known in the Christian world and in the Christian calendar and year, as Advent. For those not familiar with the concept of Advent, Advent is celebrated during the four weeks prior to the birth of Jesus. It the Christian church it is a time of waiting and longing for the coming of the Christ child. It is also a time of preparing for the coming of Jesus. The traditional 4 weeks in Advent are normally about Hope Peace, Joy and Love. And so many churches throughout the world during the next 4 weeks will be preparing themselves spiritually for Christmas.

And so our next 4 weeks will also be centered around Advent but in a different kind of way. Our theme during Advent is entitled Advent(ure). And our hope is that we can restore the adventure back into advent. This theme will cover 4 weeks looking at the adventure of the main characters in what we call the Christmas story. We’ll look today at the adventure of the Shepherds. Next week we’ll look at the adventure of the Wise Men. In two weeks we’ll be looking at the adventure of Mary and Joseph. And our fourth and final week we’ll look at the adventure of the Christ child himself.

Back in 1924 the author D.H. Lawrence penned these words, “the adventure has gone out of the Christian venture.” But it didn’t originally start out that way. So I am hoping that by the end of Advent we’ll see and be able to restore and recover the sense of adventure in our lives as individuals, as a community, and as part of the church universal I also hope and pray that through our 4 weeks together looking at Advent(ure) that we’ll see the sense of risk, adventure, and journey wrapped up in the four stories that we’ll be looking at together over the next 4 weeks.

So, as I mentioned, today for the 1st Sunday in Advent we’ll be looking at the adventure of the Shepherds found in Luke 2:8-20. Luke 2:8-20 that famous passage, that many of us know either straight from the Bible, or through the reciting of the words by Linus during a Charlie Brown’s Christmas. Luke tells the story of that first advent and the adventure of the Shepherds this way, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.  This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

So what might this text say to us 2,000 years later about the adventure of following the baby born in the manger? What can we apply to our own lives and what can we learn about being on this adventure of being a community of missional disciples? Let’s look at a few things before we seek to unpack the application of it for our everyday lives.

The first thing we see in this text is that the angel appears to Shepherds watching their flocks out in the fields. Now something that you need to know about Shepherds in those days. Shepherds were a marginalized people. In fact if you had to go to court and your only witnesses were shepherds, you were in a lot of trouble. Shepherds were seen as unclean, unreliable, and weren’t able to testify in court. God chose to share the amazing news of the Savior of the world’s birth with people whose word wasn’t seen as reliable. Who weren't the power brokers, politicians, Kings of their day. No, in this adventure of living out the Kingdom of God, God chooses the weak, the not yet, the marginalized, those on the outside, to further his kingdom. 1 Corinthians 1:27-28 puts it this way, “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are”

The next thing we notice is what the angel says to the Shepherds. The angels appear and the Shepherds were terrified. I imagine if an angel appeared to me or to you our first reaction would be the same as the Shepherds. And so wherever an angel of the Lord appears in Scripture, the typical reaction was fear and the response of the angel was “Don’t be afraid.” It happened earlier with Zechariah and Mary. And also many places in the Old Testament (including Judges 12:22) In fact the command of “Don’t be afraid” or “Do not fear” appears over 100 times in the Scriptures. I truly believe that this is one of things we need to be aware of in this adventure called the Christian life. That all too often we live our life out of fear. We need to take the angels’ words to heart. Too often we live with a fear of the unknown, a fear of the what if, a fear of what people might think, a fear that God isn’t who he says he is and that he will leave us and forsake us. But if we truly want to follow Jesus and live out an adventurous life as a follower of Jesus, we must wrestle our fear to the ground and trust that God is who he says he is and that he will watch over us and that he in fact wants the best for us.

So we find out that the Angel is not there to strike them dead or to pronounce judgment. Instead they are there to bring good tidings of great joy. In fact, they are there to preach the gospel to the Shepherds. The word gospel literally means good news. But what is the good news that God sent the angels to pronounce to the Shepherds? We find what the good news that the angels are sent to proclaim to the Shepherds in verses 10-12 and verse 14.

Right after the angels calm the shepherds down by their words to not be afraid, they speak these words, “I bring you good news (gospel) that will cause great joy for all the people.” This statement that the gospel is for all people underscores the universalism of the gospel. The fact is that this adventure, the adventure of following Jesus is not for a select few. It is for all and open to all. This is also underscored by probably the most famous Scripture of all time, one that many of us, if we grew up in the Church, memorized in our childhood, John 3:16. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” His love is for the world, and the adventure of this life, following Jesus is for the world as well. And this announcement would fly in the face of the Jewish belief system that the Savior would come and only “save” the Jews. Right from the start, as we’ll also see next week, Jesus was to be the Savior, Redeemer, and Lord not only of the Jewish people but of all people who have ever walked the face of this plant, and for all people who have undertaken this adventure called life.

After making this announcement the one angel is joined by a group of other angels and they begin to make another proclamation about this advent(ure) of following Jesus and another proclamation about what the gospel is all about. They speak these words, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When it all comes down to this adventure. When it all gets wrapped up. The gospel of Jesus is all about peace. The elusive peace promised by the Roman Empire was now being offered through Jesus to all people on earth. This peace has it’s root in the Jewish idea of Shalom, which means wholeness. To be whole means that one has right relations with God, other people, one self and all of creation.

And so that fateful night on that hillside, the angels proclaim the gospel of the adventure of following Jesus to the Shepherds. They proclaimed that this adventure is an adventure for all people, that the adventure is about the Shalom of God that only Jesus can bring, and that when we follow Jesus into this adventure we need to trust him and not to be afraid because he will be with us

There is so much more we can say about that night long ago, about what the Shepherds experienced, and then how these Shepherds whose words weren’t trusted in a court, were the first evangelists using their words to spread the gospel of the Shalom of God to everyone they met.

But let’s take some time now to unpack the Scripture and the message together. Let’s talk about the advent(ure) of following Jesus, our fear, his peace, and his desire for all people to begin the advent(ure). Let’s talk about what God might be saying to each one of us and our community as a whole.

1. What are your thoughts, comments, insights, questions, etc.. regarding the Scripture and the message?

2. What fears are you currently facing in relation to this advent(ure) of life and in following Jesus? How might the angels words of “Do Not be afraid” speak into your life and in your situation?

3. How might we work with and for the Shalom of God in our relationships, our work environment, our neighborhoods, in our community and in our world? Is there someone that you can proclaim the gospel of the Shalom of God to, and share with them the words of the angel “Do not be afraid”? If so, who is it and what steps might you take to do that?

4. What is God saying to you and what are you going to do about it? What is God saying to us and what are we going to do about it?