Friday, December 24, 2010

Sermon for Christmas Eve 2010 4:00 pm Service Luke 2:1-20 “Jacob the Shepherd Boy”

On the hillside that night, the shepherds gathered their sheep into groups to keep warm in the cold night air. The little lambs were always in the middle of each cluster of sheep, since they felt the cold more than the big fluffy white sheep with the dark faces.

It was the job of the littlest shepherd, Jacob, to make sure the lambs were safe in the cold. It was a hard job, but Jacob was very proud of the work he did. He was especially proud that he was allowed to work alongside his father and his brothers, because most boys like Jacob were not allowed to do the hard work. You see, Jacob had been sick as a little baby and had lost his ability to hear. Jacob was deaf.

Now, you may not think that hearing is important for a shepherd, but trust me, it is. You have to hear what the other shepherds are calling to you, when a lamb wanders off, or when a sheep is giving birth to a new lamb but needs some help. You have to hear the difference between the “baah” of a healthy, happy sheep, and the “baaah” of one who has a sick tummy. You have to take orders from your dad when he wants you to move the sheep to another part of the hillside.

But Jacob could not hear, and so he had to find other ways to do his job. He wanted to do it well. He wanted to make his father and mother proud of him. Maybe he couldn’t hear, but he could still work.

It had been a long day, this day in December, and now the shepherds were resting around a small fire, their cloaks wrapped around them to keep away the chill wind. The sheep were resting, too, asleep on their feet, with the lambs tucked in, warmed by all that fluffy fleece. Jacob could not hear what the others were saying…he knew they were talking about where they would move the sheep the next day, because that’s what they always talked about at night. He was dozing off – the morning would come too soon- when a strange thing happened.

Suddenly there was someone standing in front of them…no, that wasn’t right…he was just hovering above them. How could that be? And this someone was shining white. Not grubby like Jacob and the other shepherds, not shivering in a cloak by the fire, but beautiful, like the sheep’s wool after it was washed after shearing. Glowing with light, but not a fire, a cool, white glow like the stars above. And now this someone was speaking to them, and the look on the faces of his father and brothers told Jacob that the someone was saying something very surprising…very special.

“What was going on?” Jacob wondered. But no sooner had he thought that, there were a whole bunch of these creatures, just like the first one, all glowy and white and beautiful. They, too, were hovering – how could that be? – and their mouths were moving…it seemed like they were singing, and although Jacob could not hear them, he felt the vibrations of their song pulsing through the air, through the ground. He felt it in his body, as he sometimes did when the village was singing at a wedding feast. It made him smile, but it also made him a little frightened. What was going on here, and who were these beautiful creatures, and what were they singing about?

And then, just as suddenly as they had appeared, they were gone. The sky was once again a dark velvet studded with stars, and the vibrations were gone…the singing was over, Jacob thought.

But then his father and brothers stood up and his brother Benjamin yanked at his sleeve to get him up as well, and they were herding the sheep down the hillside. What was happening? They never moved the sheep at night, too easy to lose one, too easy for a wolf to sneak up and steal a lamb.

But down they went to the village, at a very quick pace. The sheep were complaining about being awakened from the sleep – Jacob could feel their baahs even though he couldn’t hear them. Jacob understood their unhappiness – he was tired himself, and had been ready to sleep when the creatures appeared in the night. But down they all went, a raggedy bunch of dirty shepherds and their complaining sheep, and Jacob’s father and brothers seemed very excited about this unusual journey.

And then they were at the edge of the village. It was very quiet there, very quiet indeed. Everyone was asleep, it seemed. There was a small light, though, shining through the window of that hut over there. It was a hut where animals were kept, a goat or two, a cow, some chickens. Why would a candle be lit there in the middle of the night? The parade of shepherds, big and little, and sheep, big and little, edged closer, and through the door, Jacob could see not just the animals he expected to see, but a woman and man, and a baby. A little, little baby, and they had put him in the feed trough! Silly – that’s not where babies go! But the baby seemed quite content, all wrapped up and on clean fresh hay.

And his father and brothers, they were…kneeling now. As if this was something very special, as if this baby was very very special, and Jacob knelt down too. All he could do was to kneel, surrounded by his father and brothers and the warm sheep, and look, because it was as if the baby was glowing, just like the strange someones who had visited them on the hillside glowed. But this glow was even brighter and warmer. And Jacob understood, that this was a baby who would change their lives, and change the world. This baby was a King. And he said, softly, the first word he had ever said, “oh!”

And the baby looked him in the eye, and even though newborns aren’t supposed to be able to do that, he smiled at Jacob.

And Jacob realized he was hearing the sounds of the sheep around him, soft baahs and grunts, little bleats from the lambs.

It was a night of miracles, that night. And miracles sometimes happen to the most ordinary people at the most unexpected times in the humblest of places. This is the gift of the Child whose birth we remember on this night. May we always be awake to the possibility of miracles, because of this Child.


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