Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister




Birth Announcements: To Shepherds

Sunday, December 10, 2006



Luke 2: 8-14

Rev. Dean Snyder


Saint-Saëns begins his oratorio with the shepherds.


Historically, in biblical times, there had been no more honored profession than to be a shepherd…no higher compliment than to be called a good shepherd. It was almost godly work. “The Lord is my shepherd,” the Psalmist wrote, “I shall not want.”


But, by the time of Jesus’ birth, family farming in Israel had largely been replaced by what today we would call agribusiness, especially in the region around Bethlehem. Now the owners of massive flocks of sheep lived in fine houses far from the noise and smell of the sheep, and farm workers tended the animals.


Farm workers lived and slept in the open fields with the sheep.  They were paid poorly – mostly in food to eat and cheap wine, and a few coins to send back to their families. Their lives were hard and short.


It was to these farm workers that the angel and heavenly choirs appeared announcing the birth of a Messiah.


The theme I would like to explore with you this Advent/Christmas season is Birth Announcements. The Christmas story is full of birth announcements…Annunciations, they are sometimes called.


In the nativity stories Jesus' birth is announced by angels and stars to shepherds, gentile astrologers, a peasant teenaged girl, a disbelieving priest, a righteous man whose fiancée is pregnant, and (indirectly) to a despotic king.


The birth announcement to each of these, and their response, is a theological statement the biblical writers are making about who Jesus is and, thus, about the heart of God, which Jesus reveals.


Why shepherds? Why did the angel and the heavenly choruses choose these poor farm workers living in the fields…the actual Greek word  is ajgraulevw (ag-row-leh'-o) literally meaning “To live outdoors.” Why choose these homeless farm workers to announce the birth to?


Here’s why: Because otherwise they were have never guessed that Jesus was born for them. Nobody would have ever guessed it.


This is why, I think, the angel’s message to them is so specific and pointed …“To YOU is born in the City of David a Savior…” To YOU. To YOU, dear smelly shepherds!


This leads me to raise two questions for us to brood on as we listen to the oratorio this morning.


Who in our world today will never guess Jesus was born for them unless we tell them? How can we remove every barrier between people and Christ? This is becoming a theme for me ever since we blessed the new ramp.


The biggest barrier is the assumption that you are somehow excluded from Christ because you are a farm worker…or because you are different in some sort of way from the stereotype we all carry in our heads of what good Christians ought to look and think and act like.


Who in our world today will never guess Jesus was born for them unless we tell them? I’d venture there are people in your life and mine who have been taught that there are barriers of intellect, status, orientation, economics, lifestyle, or something else, between them and Christ, and they will never know that Jesus was born to them unless you and I figure out a way to tell them.


The other question is this: Where inside of you and me do we find it impossible to believe that Jesus was born for us?


Most of us have places within ourselves that we believe Christ could not be born into. Stables and mangers we suppose are unacceptable to Jesus. But it is not the polished parts of who we are where Christ is born, but the places we try to deny and hide.


May Christ be born and may Christ reign in the very places within our spirits and souls where we find it hardest to believe Christ would want to dwell. To YOU, dear smelly shepherd inside me and you, is born a Savior.