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Spiritual Matters
Love comes down at Christmas

December 25, 2013

While getting ready for Christmas this year at Calvary we have been reflecting each week on the figures of the familiar manger scene and what significant role they played in the Christmas story. Before Christmas we explored Jesus' family tree, Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds. After Christmas we will talk about the angels and the magi or wise men.

I have been particularly moved by the story of the shepherds, who were on the very edge of society as they tended the sheep in the wilderness away from home and outside the towns.

There was very little respect or prestige for this job, important as it was, and the shepherds were considered "unclean" since they were not able to keep all of the "rules" of proper society or proper religion.

Yet these are precisely the ones who received the first birth announcement about Jesus from the angels in Luke 2. They, not the religious leaders or the wealthy or powerful people, were the ones who were invited to come and see the baby and Mary and Joseph that first Christmas Day.

Since he was born in a stable, they were welcome to come as they really were for a visit, sheep and all.

This tells us a lot about God and those whom God will make sure are invited to get to know him. If the lowly shepherds were given this special privilege, then those who feel on the outside of things in our world today are also given a special invitation. And when we find ourselves lost and alone and afraid, Jesus is there for us too.

Love comes down at Christmas. The God of the universe born as a baby in Bethlehem. God stepping out of the heavens and taking on flesh so he can walk with us on earth as one of us.

Love comes down at Christmas. This baby is especially Good News to those who are hurting or in need or outcast or who have made big mistakes. God cares...deeply.

Many of us know the beginning of Psalm 23. "The Lord is my shepherd..." It is very interesting that even though it was such a lowly profession, shepherding is nevertheless frequently used as an example of how God cares for us.

Shepherds live with the sheep to lead them and protect them. Shepherds aren't afraid to face dangers or to get dirty doing whatever needs to be done to keep the sheep safe and sound.

The shepherd could recognize each unique sheep and "calls his own sheep by name and leads them." When one was lost, the shepherd would leave the others in a safe place to go and try to find the lost one to bring it home. Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." (John 10)

That is the Christmas Story: Love comes down at shepherds keeping watch over their flock by night. And into our world, into our lives. Once we realize that the birth announcement for Jesus went first to the shepherds and that they found God in a stable, a barn, we can never again be quite sure where God will appear next.

God's holiness is found in the lowliest and least likely places, like among shepherds, in a stable…and on a cross. The real Christmas story assures us that God is with us in the messiness and real stuff of our lives today. In our joys and in our challenges there is God with us and for us as a Good Shepherd who cares for the sheep and knows each one by name.

Love comes down at Christmas. This is the real gift of Christmas.

The Rev. Jonathan Heierman is pastor of Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church