This week, I was listening to a sermon by Jacob Armstrong of Providence Church one morning, when I was struck by something he pointed out in Luke’s version of the Christmas story.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. Luke 2:8, NIV
Armstrong points out that the shepherds weren’t simply working in the fields, they were living there. Another translation from the Greek has the shepherds “abiding” – which, to me implies a longer tenure than simply putting in their shift. Jesus was born in Bethlehem. The shepherds lived outside Bethlehem. And I don’t think we can imagine their existence like some sort of picturesque rural idyll. It was a hard life, constant work, and likely not a future that little kids dreamed of for their “one day.” And yet, the good news of Jesus’ birth came to the shepherds right where they were living. And it changed everything for them.
I believe that a question we can ask ourselves is, “Where am I living?” The answer to that is not a physical address; it’s not the name of a neighborhood or a town. It’s the place where our heads and our hearts have been hanging out for a significant season.
For some, you’ve been abiding in grief. You have found yourself dreading this holiday season, because there will be an important seat that will be empty this year for the first time, or simply again. It may seem like you’ve been living in this place for way too long, but you don’t see a time that you won’t be right where you are.
Still others feel like they’re living in a season of waiting. Waiting for the right opportunity to come along. Waiting for test results that we’re not sure we want to hear. Waiting until we can retire. Waiting for a sign that we’re on the right track.
For others, we can find ourselves living in a place of anger or resentment. You may be angry at a person who has wronged you, a circumstance that has come upon you, or you may be angry at yourself for something that happened a long time ago. When anger turns to resentment, it can easily end up what feels like will be a permanent address.
For some, isolation is the place they find themselves spending a great deal of time. Strained, or even superficial, relationships, can lead to a profound sense of loneliness. There are folks who can find themselves surrounded by crowds of people and still be filled with a deep longing for genuine connection.
I believe that one of the most profound messages of Christmas is that, wherever we find ourselves living in this season, the good news of Jesus’ birth can find us. Long before the shepherds found Jesus on that first Christmas night, Jesus’ love found them in the form of an angel telling them not to be afraid. The same thing can happen to us. The hope of a savior – born to you and to me – can find us in the midst of grief, isolation, anger and uncertainty.
Love meets us in whatever neighborhood we find our head and heart abiding, and invites us to come and see Jesus. Love shows up where we are, and invites us to experience something brand new.
Hear me clearly – the shepherds address didn’t change as a result of being found by Jesus, and finding Jesus on that night. But their hearts did change. Their posture changed – from looking down at the sheep, to looking up to the heavens, to falling down in worship and returning to the fields glorifying and praising God for what they had seen in the stable.
Here’s my prayer – and friends, perhaps more than ever, it is a prayer for me as much as anyone else. Wherever you may find yourself “living” in these days, may the heavens open, and the message break through. May you find your way to meet the One whose birth is good news of great joy. And may you, may I, and may our world be forever changed because Jesus showed up in our neighborhood.