A sermon delivered by Randy Hyde, Pastor, Pulaski Heights Baptist Church, Little Rock, Ark., onDecember 24, 2011.
We’ve been waiting for this hour, haven’t we? When all the shopping is over… well, until early Monday morning, anyway, the day after Christmas day. That’s when the stores re-open and people will take back the stuff they don’t want or that doesn’t fit, and when there will be sales galore, enough to make you realize that if you thought Black Friday was a bargain day, not to mention bad for traffic and just made for people macing one another so they could get a $50 X-Box, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
But for right now, for this moment on Christmas Eve, it’s quiet – eerily quiet – and only Waffle House is open for business.
We’ve been waiting for this moment, waiting for the anticipation of good news to arrive. We crave the quietness of it, don’t we? Why, it’s so quiet you can almost hear a candle flicker. Just like the first Christmas.
Except, I’m not so sure the first Christmas was all that quiet. In fact, I think it may have been quite the opposite.
The world was definitely in an uproar. Herod was on the warpath again. You know how it is that whenever there’s a sneeze in the direction of the Middle East gas prices go through the roof overnight? We’ve been watching as the prices have slowly, painstakingly slowly, gone down these last few weeks. All it would take is the rumor of a rumor in regard to the Middle East and those prices would be reversed quicker than you can say Al Qaida.
Well, somebody’s sneezed in Herod’s direction, and when Herod gets his britches in a wad, the whole world’s teeth are set on edge. And right now, Herod is uneasy over this news of a newborn king. When Herod’s uneasy, everybody’s uneasy, and the price of camel food has gone through the roof. The world’s in an uproar.
Caesar Augustus has called for a census. Everybody knows why, too. It is the prelude to a new taxation. The catch is that you have to go back to your hometown to be counted, so the roads are now filled with pilgrims who are traveling not because they want to but because it is required of them. The world is in an uproar.
I am told that childbirth is not a silent process. My children were born back in the day when dads weren’t allowed in the birthing room, so I didn’t get to experience it firsthand. For those of you who did, I’m sure it was one of the seminal moments of your life, one you will never forget. But not because it was quiet and reflective; because you were there to witness that tiny new life coming into the world… into your world. Nevertheless, as wonderful as it was, your world, at that moment, was in an uproar.
Speaking of that new life. First thing doctors want a newborn to do is, what? Test his or her little lungs. And we all know how they do that. No, birth is not a quiet experience. Or so I’m told. Put yourself in that baby’s place, erupting from a safe, warm, dark environment to a room where there are lights and loud voices, hands grabbing you and doing unmentionable things to you. That would make any baby cry. Uproar!
In addition to the sounds of a baby being born, at least on that first Christmas, take a little hike up into the hills and listen to the sounds of all those angels singing. Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those whom God favors. I’m sure it was quite beautiful. Why, they’ve probably got musical pitches in heaven that we on earth haven’t even thought of. We’ve got sopranos and altos, basses and tenors, and a few vocal tones in between, but in heaven they’ve got such a wide range of voices it would make your head swoon. But quiet… no. No, I don’t think angels are necessarily quiet. On that first Christmas, even heaven was in an uproar.
According to what we do know, when angels aren’t singing they’re bringing terrifying news of old women having babies and a virgin conceiving a child. They may deliver their messages quietly, but chances are the results of those messages evoke some serious cries of disbelief.
And we are told that as soon as the angel chorus departed, the shepherds ran lickety-split down the hill to see this newborn baby they had been told about. And they couldn’t wait to tell everybody they saw that a new king had been born. Shepherds may be muted while tending their sheep, but give them news like this and you can’t keep them quiet.
Silent Night, Holy Night. All is calm, all is bright? I doubt it. Holy, certainly, but silent? Don’t think so.
Which may be why the shepherds are central to our story. As far as we can tell, until the angels made their arrival, as far as the shepherds are concerned, it’s just another day like any day, a day when nothing new ever happens. They’re not waiting for anything, just expecting the same old same old.
Are you aware that shepherds invented the game of golf? In Scotland, St. Andrews, to be exact. At least, that’s what they say. It began when they stopped leaning on their shepherds’ staffs, turned them upside down, and started hitting rocks with the crooked end. Pretty soon, they found a target for the rocks… the holes dug in the ground by rabbits. Yep, that’s how golf began.
By the way, do you know why they call it golf? Because all the other four-letter words were taken.
Legend has it there are eighteen holes because that’s how many shots there are in a fifth of whisky… one shot per hole, eighteen shots, and eventually it became the official number of holes per round. I’m not sure how accurate that is, but that’s what they say. Of course, I wouldn’t know first hand about that.
And do you know why shepherds took to golf, not to mention drinking? Probably because they were bored. There’s not a whole lot to do when one is a shepherd. Oh, occasionally a wild animal may come along and try to have one of your sheep for supper. It’s then you really earn your keep, taking your life into your own hands with the hopes that you don’t become supper. But for the most part, it’s a matter of just standing around, leaning on your staff, or hitting rocks into rabbit holes.
It’s for certain that sheep make for lousy companions. Their vocabulary is quite limited, and they are said to be just about the dumbest animals on the face of the earth. All they do is eat grass and follow wherever the grass and water take them. So shepherds took to amusing themselves on long days when all the sheep wanted to do was eat and bleat and do those things that sheep do.
What do shepherds have to wait for, to look forward to? Just another day of watching and hitting rocks into rabbit holes… until their world becomes an uproar.
The world right outside our church’s door is in an uproar. The war in Iraq may be officially over, but sixty-nine people died day before yesterday from yet another suicide bomb. And even if Iraq were to settle down – which would be a miracle in itself – Iran is rumbling with talk of nuclear weapons, Syria and Egypt are on edge, and the nations are plagued with terrorism. With all the advances we’ve made, disease is still rampant. Our neighborhoods are riddled with crime. There may be some folks in this very room right now who are riddled with debt. If there’s a fruit of the month, there’s also a problem of the month. Difficulties surround us. Our world is in an uproar.
Yet, here we are, waiting… waiting for good news.
Is your personal world in an uproar? If so, it could be that this quiet and reflective service, of itself, is a blessing to you. Merry Christmas. For just a few moments, at least, you’re leaving your troubles out on the doorstep and you’re not going to give them another thought… for a few moments, anyway. And you’re going to think about the good news that has come our way in the gift of a child.
You know how this story goes. You are aware that it wasn’t easy for Jesus either, nor for those who were his family or for those who chose to follow him. But the first thing – the very first thing – Jesus said when he inaugurated his public ministry was that he came to bring good news of an in-breaking kingdom. Right into the face of our world that is always in an uproar, God brings us the good news we’ve been waiting for.
You may find that good news in the simplest of things, but if Christmas really and truly comes to you, you will find it. Or maybe we should say it will find you. And that is worth waiting for indeed.
Lord, come to us, abide us, this night and always. Amen.