the sign

The shepherds live in the fields. That is where they keep watch for trouble. The shepherds know a lot about trouble. They are the first to be told. An angel - a messenger - from God stands in front of them. The glory of the Lord shines around them. It means that the energy of God crackles in the air. Is it like the Northern Lights? Is it like sunlight radiating? Is it like when your heart is full to overflowing? Yes. And more. It is frightening. The shepherds are terrified. What kind of message can the angel be carrying? Why here? Why now? Why us?

This is the first thing to remember about this night. It is a night when God breaks through the silence - and through the noise - with a message to the shepherds, to the ones who keep watch, to those who know about trouble. They assume it must be bad news. They have come to expect bad news. But the angel says “Do not be afraid; for see - I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” The shepherds who are all too well acquainted with bad news are the first to hear that there is, after all, good news of great joy.

“To you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” This is the familiar message that is not yet old news. It is not old news that a Saviour is born if you have wandered and become lost, if your life is a wreck, if you’ve messed up big time and cannot save yourself. Because the Saviour comes to save those who cannot save themselves. It is not old news that the Messiah is born if you are losing hope in the future - your future, our future, the earth’s future. Because the Messiah comes from the other side of despair to bring a new future for the earth, for us, for you. It is not old news that the Lord is born if you ache with grief and sadness, if you bear great pain and sorrow. Because the Lord comes as a servant to tend and to heal the broken and the broken-hearted, to comfort and to deliver the poor and the poor in spirit.

The angel does not lead the shepherds to Jesus. Having delivered the news, the messenger departs. But not without leaving a clue: “This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” A sign. A sign of God’s power to save a soul, to birth a future, to welcome the homeless home. You might expect a big neon sign, a sign that cannot possible be missed. But no. The signature of the God we meet in Jesus Christ is easily and regularly overlooked. The One who comes in glory is born a peasant in a stable. The One with power to save dies a convict on a cross.

Do not be surprised if it is hard to see the evidence of God’s saving love. The sign that God is up to something new is not self-evident. This is the sign: Jesus Christ is found where there is no room. Which is to say that God in human form is found hidden in the darkness, in the weakness, in the trouble itself. That is where the light first dawns, where the strength first grows, where the wounds first heal.

It is the reason that the lone angelic messenger is suddenly joined by a multitude of the heavenly host, praising and saying “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace.” This is a prayer, sung from heaven to the earth. It is a prayer that glorifies God, that intends to energize God, that means to increase God’s power because a lot of power is required for the peacemaking that is needed. It is a prayer that calls forth lives offered to the increase of God’s glory for the sake of peace in heaven and on earth, peace between us and peace within us. And now we are called, urged, summoned to join the song of the heavenly host, to glorify God with our days, to participate in the making of peace.

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