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Seven Scenes from the Advent-Christmas Story: Shepherds Watching
Luke 2:8

Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Advent Service I—November 30, 2011

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The theme for our services during Advent this year is, “Seven Scenes from the Advent-Christmas Story,” including, “John Preaching,” “Angels Singing,” “Mary Praising,” “Joseph Dreaming,” “Herod Fearing,” and “Wise Men Worshipping.”  This evening we consider “Shepherds Watching”: “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.”

When the Wise Men came from a distant land to worship the newborn king, they did not first go to the little town of Bethlehem, or to the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger, or to the shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  As Jesus once said, regarding John the Baptist, “What did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces.” 

And, that is exactly where the Wise Men expected the newborn king of the Jews to be, in the royal palace at Jerusalem.  So, that is where they go at first looking for the King of Kings.  His birth should have been announced by the royal herald to the court at Jerusalem.  But, as his mother Mary says in the Magnificat, which we will sing this evening, “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has exalted the lowly.”

The Christmas story is so familiar to us that we take for granted “the angel of the Lord came upon . . . [the] shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night” to announce to them “unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.”   But, for people in the ancient world, this was a totally unexpected and fantastic twist in the Christmas story.

Shepherds were considered the lowliest strata of society.  They were dirty, smelly, uncouth, and unwelcome in polite society.  And, because only rarely could they get in from the fields to attend religious services, they were also considered great sinners, outcasts not only from society, but also from the synagogue.

Why would the Savior’s birth be announced first to these lowly “shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night”?  Because the shepherds symbolize all of us.  Although we don’t live out in the fields with animals, although we regularly bathe and shower, and use soaps and shampoo, yet we are filthy like the shepherds, spiritually filthy with sin.  The announcement of the Savior’s birth to the lowly shepherds symbolizes that Christ came into the world to save sinners like you and me.  As Jesus said, “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”

The announcement to the shepherds also symbolizes who the Savior is and how he will save us.  “I am the Good Shepherd,” he says, “and I lay down my life for the sheep.”  Jesus your Good Shepherd laid down his life for you, and because of his sacrifice, your sins are all forgiven.  Because he is your Good Shepherd, goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life, and finally he will lead you through the valley of the shadow of death into the green pastures and quiet waters of heaven, where you will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

As Micah says in this evening’s reading, “He will stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord  his God. And they will live securely, for then his greatness will reach to the ends of the earth. And he will be their peace.”


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