A Child is Born to US (A Sermon)

The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds, by RembrandtIsaiah 9: 6-7 For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom. He will establish and uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time onwards and for evermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

There is a small etching by Rembrandt, “The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds,” which portrays the angel in a burst of light making the announcement to the shepherds. At this point they are diving for cover. Shepherds dig under logs, cows bolt off the edges of the etching, and sheep scurry about in confusion. It is as if all creation has been awakened from a deep, dreamless sleep, thoroughly taken by surprise, frightened, by God’s new gift.

Rembrandt must have thought the birth of the Christ Child shocked heaven as well, because angels and cherubim tumble and whirl out of control in the sky. The heavenly host seems baffled by God’s wondrous act, not sure whether to rejoice or fear. The only peaceful person in the picture is the fat, matronly angel serenely reading the glad tidings, “To you is born a savior in the little town of Bethlehem.”

You get the idea that immediately after the angels left, a shepherd poked his head from the top of a hole, from between leaves, and remarked, “Well, I don’t think it’s exactly like hitting the lottery, but let’s go to Bethlehem and see what God has given us.”

And there they found the blessings of heaven. God who usually remains so silent in this world speaks, “I love the shepherd in you all. Lay down your cares, lay down your fears, lay down your most precious assumptions, and lay down every one of your weapons. Deny yourself and follow me. Lose your life in me, and you shall find it.”

Part of the shepherd in us sings, “Yes, yes. This is what I have waited for. Happiness is to walk with God and do his will.” And part of the shepherd in us cries, “No, no. This is not at all for what I hoped. This happiness does not save me from pain.”

We gather to celebrate another Christmas, to proclaim God’s wondrous gift, to acknowledge all of our hopes and also all of our fears meet in this silent birth. We offer thanks for God’s coming to us in Jesus, in whom we’ve found so much happiness. But we also confess we have found profound challenge and great demand in his coming. He reveals hidden thoughts, incites great joys, and provokes deep fears. And so as we give thanks to God for this Christmas gift, we also pray with great trembling, “Cast out our sins. Enter in. Be born again. Be born in us today.”

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1 Enlightened Reply

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  1. Kerry says:

    “I love the shepherd in you all.” Beautiful!

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