Advent 2020 – Shepherds Find Joy
Pastor Vannae Savig — December 13, 2020
I worked in a library for 5 years. It had been a dream of mine since I was a kid. I love to read, love the quiet stillness of the library, and love to get lost in the stacks and stacks of books I’ve never read before. However, the magic of the library quickly wore off, because you have people yelling at you about 10 cent fines, or asking you where a book is located but all they remember about the book is that it was blue.
It’s easy to get caught up in the humdrumness of life. It’s easy to get frustrated with your job. Even when surrounded by books, I managed to have many many bad days at my library job. However, there were always these moments when I had wonderful interaction with a patron. When I get to read to the preschoolers in the children’s room. I loved getting to see the children that would come in regularly and watch them grow up over the years. I’d gotten to know many patrons who came in regularly. And I got to hear about their lives, I was invited to graduations, birthday parties, some of them would talk to me about God. Some even came to my church. I got to have all these moments of joy. Among my mundane days at the library, the days that I was irritated, God gave me these unpredictable moments of joy. He shook up my normal. He allowed me to see the beauty in the people he created. He reminded me that there was more than just what was right in front of me.
It’s the third Sunday of Advent. Who remembers the shepherds who get to meet baby Jesus? I’m going to pretend I can see some of you raise your hand. For those of you who aren’t familiar, this is a great Christmas story! We find our shepherds during their night shift, closed behind the door of normalcy. Until God opens a new door, steps in and reveals good news and joy.
When I think about the story of the shepherds, I try to imagine what it was like. Take a deep breath and imagine with me…There you are in the middle of your work shift. All is quiet on the home front, and everything feels normal. Perhaps you’re even bored. Maybe you got into a disagreement with a coworker, or you can’t wait for work to be over. All of a sudden an angel appears. He tells you and your coworkers not to be afraid, and announces the birth of the Messiah, The Savior of the World, that you have been praying for. And you find out that Yahweh is real and he has heard your prayers. Ok for those of you who closed your eyes, you can open them now and let’s read the story together, Luke 2:8-20. A few verses before this, we read about the census that is taking place. A very pregnant Mary and her hubby Joseph are on their way to Judea. While they are there she goes into labor, and delivers Baby Jesus. And now read along with me.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 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.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”
Can you just imagine this moment? In the midst of their normal work shift, they got to be a part of a joyful miraculous moment. Something that is so striking for me in this story is that God met them where they were. They didn’t have to go out and seek God, God came to them and told them the good news. The Christ, the promised Messiah the shepherds had heard about from the prophets, the Savior of the world was finally born.
No wonder these priests ran “with haste (v.16)” to see the baby the angel spoke about. I’d be running too, wouldn’t you? I can only imagine how big their eyes got and how far their jaws dropped when they found a baby lying in a feeding trough, wrapped in swaddling cloth, just like the angel said.
While I was working at the library I got to see a lot of people I grew up with, old classmates, old teachers, friends who I hadn’t seen in years. One Saturday morning, it was super crowded and busy. It was one of those days where the line never stops and I barely got a break. For some reason, I finally stopped staring at the long line and just looked passed it. I saw my friend’s dad, Mike. I’ve known he and his family all my life. I grew just across the street from him, and his daughter was like a sister to me, still is. Recently, his son had passed away. His son was like a big brother. I can remember he used to drive us to high school with him, music loud, slightly embarrassed to be driving around his kid sister and her friends. It was really hard for all of us when he passed away. I hadn’t gotten to see his parents since the funeral but there Mike was in the library. He looked at me and smiled. And without thinking, without worrying about the line, I ran from around the desk and hugged him. In front of this crowd of people and my co-workers, I hugged him. We didn’t really say anything, and we just both started to cry. We cried for his son. We cried because things were different forever now. Then something happened. Our tears of grief turn to tears of joy. I know this sounds odd. But I just felt the Holy Spirit and we both started laughing and crying. We were joyful because we knew that God had beaten death. We felt because we still had each other. I began to pray and thank God for whatever this feeling was. I thanked God for Mike’s son’s life. I thanked God that He reigns. We thanked God for each other. I totally forgot about work and people watching. Like the shepherds, this was an unexpected joyful BIG moment. God burst through my regular routine to remind me of Him. God met me where I was. Just like he did with the shepherds.
What happens after moments like these? What happens when things seemingly go back to normal? I think it’s common to ask ourselves “what now?” after milestones, sought-after achievements, and just about anything that demands we examine our lives and make the changes. After the high of a life-changing event, you might go back to your regular life, your regular routine. The excitement fades, maybe you even forget the feeling of what happened. Maybe you forget the joy of the moment. I know that has happened to me. God knows the joy can fade. God knows pieces can get lost as time passes. But I don’t think that’s what he wants. But life takes over, we get tired, we get restless, or bad things happen that makes us forget these unexpected encounters with Christ.
Friends, I think the way to hold on to these moments is to do what the shepherds did: we need to tell the others about the good news. (Slide 15)These moments where God meets us where we are, where we get a glimpse of the Kingdom, are not meant to be kept to ourselves. I think a good way to keep these moments from fading is not just remember them but to tell people about them. The shepherds witnessed something so incredible that they were filled with great joy. So much joy, that they worshiped and went and told people. It was such good news that they couldn’t keep it to themselves. And neither should we. Letting others share in this joy with us helps us get through those in between times. The times where we feel like God isn’t showing up. Or the times we feel alone. Or the times we feel lost. It helps remind us of who God is and that he is with us. Even in those moments we can’t feel him.
When we share these things, it doesn’t just help us to remember, but it also encourages others. When the shepherds go back to share what they saw and experienced, they brought hope and joy to so many people.
Joy is meant to be shared. God can show up in your house, in the middle of this Covid stuff. We are in a dark uncertain time right now, but Jesus can show up in these moments. Our joy is here now and can be here now. Think of what it would have been like if I didn’t come out from behind that desk at the library? Or if the shepherds didn’t go to see Baby Jesus like the angels said? God’s glory and goodness would still be true… His love would still be there for me and Mike as we went through the pain of his son’s death, and Baby Jesus would still be the Messiah even if the shepherds didn’t leave their flock that night, but God allows for an extra space of joy to come in when we allow ourselves to be interrupted and share these moments together.
After Mike left and I went back to work, I took a page from the shepherd’s book, I allowed myself to carry that moment and God’s love and joy further, and I shared some of that story with my coworkers. And yes, I still had to finish work that day, but I continued to worship the almighty God while I did. And I let God’s power radiate out of me and shared it with everyone.
What does it look like for you to share that joy in your work…in your family… in your trials and everyday struggles of life in this season right now…?
Take some time to pray and think about that and where you can find God’s joy in your life right now? Are you making space for unpredictable moments like the shepherds had? Are you leaving room for joy?
*Share these moments with us. We are apart and have been for a while now. But I know that God has shown up for all of us in this time. Tell us about them. How was God shown up for you in this time. Share times of joy, times of feeling the presence of the H.S. You can share them on our facebook page or email them to me.