8 Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. 9 The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.
10 The angel said, “Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, 14 “Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.”
15 When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us.” 16 They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child. 18 Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. 20 The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.
Luke 2: 8-20
I have been thinking a lot about evangelism lately. If you follow Union on Facebook, maybe you have too! As I was reading this passage, I began to see it through the lens of evangelism. After all, evangelism quite simply means sharing the good news, and we have a lot of that here! The angels evangelize with the shepherds. The shepherds evangelize with other people. And when we look at this familiar story with evangelism in mind, it gives us some important reminders.
First, the shepherds were not at church or a synagogue. They were going about their daily business, hard at work (or possibly bored at work) in the fields. Part of evangelism is stepping out of the church and going where the people are. The angels didn’t hang around the manger hoping someone would come in who needed Jesus, and they definitely didn’t wag a finger at the shepherds for not being there. They left the premises because the news was too good not to share.
Second, as you may know from years of sermons and Bible studies and pageants, shepherds weren’t particularly “special” people. They were just folks, making a living, not the ones you might initially think of if you were trying to reach the influential tastemakers of the day. Evangelism does not have to do with “getting” the most-popular people. Sure, we like them too, but everyone is special, and everyone can use some good news.
Third, when the glory of the Lord shone around them, the shepherds were terrified- just like you (perhaps) and me, when we are reminded of the vastness and urgency and import of what God gives us, and the difficulty of sharing that news authentically. Christ is with us in the terror, in the potential awkwardness of those first steps, in the fear that we are too timid or too bold. Fear is appropriate in the face of our daunting and beautiful calling.
Fourth, we see different reactions to the news. The shepherds “made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.” They were pretty outgoing and excited to talk about it right away. “But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.” She took some quiet time alone to reflect. There is a place in evangelism, just like in the church, for gregarious people and quiet ones, those who run and tell and those who ponder and treasure. Evangelism is not a personality thing. As long as you’re not a jerk, you can do evangelism.
Fifth, “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” They returned, presumably to their original context. God does not call us to stay warm and safe in the manger, cuddling baby Jesus forever. God calls us to go there and then leave, carrying the warmth and safety with us, noticing and pointing out Jesus all over. The shepherds may have liked to stay longer, but they couldn’t help going to share the good news! Just as the angels went out to them, they now go out to others.
In many ways, the season of Advent is difficult for church people. (It’s December 23! I know that is the biggest “duh” ever.) There’s more to do, and it’s draining, to say the least. In other ways, though, it’s a nice time for church. We kind of have a free pass for talking about Jesus. People who are less involved in church often feel closer to Jesus during this season. We see his image in more places. God is on people’s minds a little more. And now, we’re in the home stretch. Once school is back in session and the presents are put away, our free pass vanishes. So as we ponder and treasure the ways that God is calling us to share the good news of great joy in every season, maybe we can think of these angels and shepherds. Let us follow them to the manger and then away, back to the fields and convenience stores and schools and parks, glorifying and praising God for all that we hear and see.
A prayer for this day:
Dear God, thank you for being with us for the sake of love, and for meeting us where we are. Please help us to do the same with the people in our lives. Amen.
Rev. Rachel J. Shepherd (M. Div., 2014)
Second Presbyterian Church
Little Rock, AR