Sermon for Christmas Eve, December 24, 2012

Luke 2:1-20

“Divine Encounters: Meeting God By Showing Up (Shepherds)”

Today is the fifth of a 7-sermon series entitled “Divine Encounters”

looking at the diverse ways the persons of the Christmas Story met God.

Franklin Circle Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Cleveland, Ohio ~

Rev. Allen V. Harris, Pastor & Preacher

?????????????????I was at a big party last night and they had a raffle for a summer cruise.  I bought a bunch of tickets, but had to leave before they announced the winner.  My friend said she would write down the winning ticket number.  Let me compare it to my tickets: 54923 – 54923.  Oh my GOD!!!!!  This is incredible!  I won!  I won!  I’m going to the Bahamas!!!!

Wait… NO!  This can’t be????  “Must be present to win?!?!”  But I had to go home so I could get some sleep for this important day!  Plus the music the band was playing really wasn’t really my style.  And most of my friends either weren’t there or had already gone home.  Really they have to give me this prize; I won it, after all, right?

Hold on, my friend wrote a note on the back of this piece of paper…  “Allen, the winner wasn’t present, so they called another number.  A really hot guy won and he was so excited.  Too bad for the other person, right!  Love, Georgia.”  AAARRRGGGHHH!!!!!!

Must be present to win.  I suppose that’s a theme for life.  To really receive the full goodness of this life you have to truly be present.  And by “present” of course I don’t mean simply having a bodily presence in this world.  I’m talking about being aware, being involved, being invested in what is happening.

FCCCNewCreche1But it is so difficult to be present in that kind of full-body, total-spirit, complete-mind sort of way!  Really, this life is hard!  Meaningful work that pays a living wage is hard to come by.  Our education system seems to be geared more for baby-sitting than developing future leaders.  The health care system feels like it is a maze and designed for only the wealthiest amongst us.  The media is more intent on milking us for our money by catering to advertisers than it is on giving us true joy and fun.  And don’t even get me started on the myriad of forces pushing our addictions to their limits: gambling, drugs, alcohol, sex, work…  It is almost impossible to be “fully present” when everything is so overwhelming.  Checking out.  Dropping out.  Getting out.  I’m outta here is so much easier.

Being fully present is hard, no question, but it is what we are called to do.  It is what we were created to do and be.  Fully Present.  That’s what the shepherds were that night.  I believe they were fully alert and aware of what was going on – they had to be.  That’s what they were there for.   There were also many, many forces that were intent on distracting them so that their charges – the sheep – could be stolen or eaten.  The best shepherds weren’t necessarily the ones with the keenest sight, the finest hearing, and even the best sense of smell.  The very best shepherds surely were those ones who were simply fully present and awake in the moment.  It was these shepherds who had the honor and privilege of all eternity to receive the news from the angelic choir, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom God favors!”

This struggle between the hard “realities” of life and being fully present reminds me of a song that haunted me as a teenager.  “Cats In The Cradle” by Harry Chapin

My child arrived just the other day

He came to the world in the usual way

But there were planes to catch and bills to pay

He learned to walk while I was away

And he was talkin’ ‘fore I knew it, and as he grew

He’d say “I’m gonna be like you dad

You know I’m gonna be like you”


And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon

Little boy blue and the man on the moon

When you comin’ home dad?

I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son

You know we’ll have a good time then

Then, later in the song, when the son’s grown and has his own family, the perspective turns:

I’ve long since retired, my son’s moved away

I called him up just the other day

I said, “I’d like to see you if you don’t mind”

He said, “I’d love to, Dad, if I can find the time

You see my new job’s a hassle and kids have the flu

But it’s sure nice talking to you, Dad

It’s been sure nice talking to you”


And as I hung up the phone it occurred to me

He’d grown up just like me

My boy was just like me


And the cat’s in the cradle and the silver spoon

Little boy blue and the man on the moon

When you comin’ home son?

I don’t know when, but we’ll get together then son

You know we’ll have a good time then

Life is like this.  More to the point, our faith is like this.  Now, I’d never pit faith against the everyday stuff of life.  In fact, I believe that we can find God in the most mundane of life’s chores.  We don’t have to wait for so-called “mountain top experiences” or retreat into an inner sanctum.  Like the Shepherds we, too, have to “watch our fields by night.”  We have to attend school and take tests and write papers.  We have to work to pay the bills.  We have to feed ourselves and our children.  We have to take out the trash, shovel the sidewalk, feed the cat or the dog.  But what the shepherds are trying to tell us is that we can’t afford to do those things in a disembodied way.  We must be fully present to find the grace, the beauty, the GOD in them!

FCCCNewCreche2What if these were not the first set of shepherds the angels went to?  What if the angelic host had already been to multiple hillsides, but none of the other shepherds were fully present?  This group of shepherds were drinking to avoid the pain of life.  That group of shepherds were whining and complaining about how poorly they were compensated.  The group of shepherds over on that hillside were so exhausted from partying the night before they couldn’t stay awake.  Another group of shepherds were so frightfully deep in prayer they never noticed the angelic light and song.

But one group of shepherds were fully present.  They weren’t heroic or special or anything in particular except present.  They knew to look for God in all things.  I am reminded of one of the most exquisitely beautiful and profoundly spiritual songs I have ever heard.  Holy As A Day Is Spent by Carrie Newcomer.  She sings:

Holy is the dish and drain

The soap and sink, the cup and plate

And the warm wool socks, and the cold white tile

Showerheads and good dry towels


And frying eggs sound like psalms

With a bit of salt measured in my palm

It’s all a part of a sacrament

As holy as a day is spent


Holy is the busy street

And cars that boom with passion’s beat

And the check out girl, Counting change

And the hands that shook my hands today

And she concludes:

Unknowingly we slow our pace

In the shade of unexpected grace

With grateful smiles and sad lament

As holy as a day is spent


And morning light sings “providence”

As holy as a day is spent

The shepherds who were fully present in their lives were able to see that the light that shown upon them was not simply the sun rising from the east, but the light of God’s love rising in the world.  The shepherds who were fully invested in their bodies, their breath, their thoughts, their lives did not think that the song they heard was just the wind in the trees or the birds overhead, but the song of divine hope echoing throughout creation.

We, too, can see the light and hear the song, if we are but present.  For, in the words of poet George Herbert, “my soul’s a shepherd, too; a flock it feeds of thoughts, and words, and deeds.”  We must go searching, too, until we find a sun/son.  Then we, too, will sing and shine all our own day until even God’s beams shall sing and our music shine!