December 24, 2022
One piece of advice that I remember getting some time ago was that nothing good can happen after 2:00 am. I’ve also heard it pushed to midnight, but the sentiment is the same. It’s advice for people younger than me. No, but really. The later it is, the more likely you are to get into trouble. It’s a piece of advice that assumes something about people who are up late at night, what those people are up to, and what kinds of things can happen in the nighttime. And I think we have that basic assumption—nighttime isn’t the time for good, important, or helpful things to happen.
But we also know, on some level, that isn’t always true. Good things can happen even under the cover of darkness. Things that make the world better have happened in the night. Think of Harriet Tubman, whose work with the underground railroad led to the freedom of countless slaves—always moved at night. European Jews under Nazi rule slipped away under the radar only when night came. Good news that can’t wait till morning, good news that changes the world, comes at night sometimes. Like when shepherds were in a cold December field, huddled with their sheep and defending them from roving predators, when the sky suddenly changed and they heard something amazing being said.
We hear this story every year, how the angels came to the shepherds and announced the birth of Jesus. “Fear not!” they say, “for I bring you good news of great joy: to you is born this day in the city of David a savior, which is Christ the Lord!” The amazing good news of the birth of the Messiah was announced first to shepherds! And why shepherds? We often hear about how shepherds were on the bottom of the social ladder, the poorest of the poor and shoved to the margins of society. That God chose to share the good news with them first because of their humble position. And that has some measure of truth to it, but it’s more complicated than that.
Shepherds were, I think, like essential workers—lots of lip service admiring their job, but not a lot of real-world respect. The Bible often uses shepherds to describe kings and other leaders of the people—good ones watch over their flocks well, bad ones let wolves get to them—and we all know that God is compared to a shepherd (“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…”). Society spoke well of shepherds and liked to put them on a pedestal, but that admiration stayed hypothetical—the real people who actually shepherded sheep were too smelly, too rough, too marginalized for decent company. And much like certain essential workers who don’t get the opportunity to work the 9-to-5 shift, they were probably about the only people awake when the angels made their announcement.
Think about that: the angels came at such a late hour, making the announcement of the birth that would change the course of history, and it happened to be that the only people who would even be awake for it were the type of people who were shepherds! People who didn’t have the stability and predictability of a nine-to-five type job. People who were readily ignored by society. People who did jobs unseen by most people. People whose lives made the lives of others easier, but whose own lives were rough and demanding and difficult. So of course God would choose the middle of the night to make this announcement—the shepherds were exactly the people who needed to hear the good news the most!
And the fact that it was the middle of the night when the angels broke the news changed the way it was heard. Think of the kind of good news you might get in the middle of the night. It’s the kind of news that can’t wait. It’s the kind of news that is so spectacularly good that it’s worth being woken up for. It’s the kind of good news that you hear only from those who love you and care about you and want you to be included. Under the cover of darkness, the angels weren’t simply announcing the birth of the savior to a faceless mass of people who might or might not care about the words they said. Instead, the angels were announcing the birth of the Messiah, given to the shepherds personally, because the shepherds were close to God’s own heart.
Who is close to our own hearts that needs to hear this good news? Who do we know who is longing to hear that God has come to be with us, that God has chosen to share hope and joy and peace and love with us, here on earth? Who can you share this good news with?
The angels remind us tonight that we don’t need to shout the news from the rooftops. One of the scariest things for any of us to do is the idea of sharing the good news of Jesus with large groups of strangers. Going out into broad daylight and being expected to proclaim the good news like street preachers is something, I suspect, very few if any of us will ever want to do. But what about sharing the good news the ways the angels did? Finding the people who need to hear it most, people who matter to us most, and sharing it under the cover of darkness, in those near and beloved circles of our lives? The hope of Jesus, born in the middle of the night, is good news for everyone—now how is it good news for you and yours?
Telling people out in the public world, throwing the good news out like broadcast seed and hoping it takes root, isn’t the only way to share the good news with others. Sometimes it’s not even a good way to share it! The angels show us that when they came to the shepherds in the middle of the night. This Christmas season, look for the people who need to hear the good news who are in your midst. Look for the people who you would call in the middle of the night to announce good news to. Those are the people God has put in your life to share the love of Jesus with. Those are the people God is calling you to share the good news with.
And that good news? It’s that God has come to be with us. God has shown up as a baby, vulnerable and needing our love and care. God has become one of us, and by becoming one of us God has saved us from the bondage of sin and death, and brings new life to us. God has come to free the oppressed, to heal the brokenhearted, to give hope to the weary, and lead us to the joy of everlasting life. That’s news that’s worth telling, even in the middle of the night.
Thanks be to God. Amen.