New Year’s Day                                       1/1/17 Epiphany, Norfolk

Well, we sort of have a lot going on this morning, don’t we. Of course it’s New Year’s Day. I had a real exciting New Year’s Eve sitting in bed with the cats and dogs all lined up, as we watched the ball drop at Times Square. Man, it was exciting. Many of you have heard me say that one of the boxes I still haven’t checked is to be in Times Square for New Year’s Eve. I’m really going to do it, one
Well, we sort of have a lot going on this morning, don’t we. Of course it’s New Year’s Day. I had a real exciting New Year’s Eve sitting in bed with the cats and dogs all lined up, as we watched the ball drop at Times Square. Man, it was exciting. Many of you have heard me say that one of the boxes I still haven’t checked is to be in Times Square for New Year’s Eve. I’m really going to do it, one of these days. But in the meantime, the TV version works pretty well.

Well, on our Church Calendar, today is “Holy Name Day.” The Calendar has Jesus being circumcised and named eight days after his birth, which is today. So, we get this passage from Luke about the shepherds.
 
Now, normally, on the first Sunday after Christmas, the opening verses of the Gospel of John are read: “In the beginning was the word…” And then we normally get a Second Sunday of Christmas, which always has some really great readings. But this year is different. Since Christmas was last Sunday, and today is eight days after Christmas, we have Holy Name Day and the shepherds, instead of the Gospel of John. And this year there will be no second Sunday of Christmas because Friday will be the Feast of the Epiphany, which ends our Christmas Season. So, it’s all out of whack this year, which only happens when Christmas is on a Sunday.
 
Well, we learn a lot from Luke’s passage this morning. First, we learn that a male Jewish child is named on the eighth day of his life, at the time of his circumcision. By the way, “Jesus” was probably the most common male name to the Hebrews. Jonah, Jonas, John, and a whole bunch of other names are variations of Jesus. But Jesus was the common root for all of those names.
 
And this morning we get our shepherds. Now, there are a few things we need to know about shepherds. They were usually young boys or old men. They were hired to accompany and tend to a herd of sheep, for a sheep owner. Shepherds were the lowest step in the socio-economic ladder. Their job was to get the sheep from the sheepfold in the morning, take them to pasture to graze, protect them while they grazed, and get them back to the sheepfold before dark. Then they could return to their families, or go about their business – except in the Spring. Spring time was – and is – “lambing time”, when the sheep give birth. During “lambing time”, the sheep are kept in the pasture overnight, with the shepherds tending them, sometimes in shifts. It’s only in spring that the sheep stay in the fields at night. And our traditional Christmas story tells us that the shepherds were “abiding in the fields by night.” That’s when the angels appeared to them, and they left their sheep, and went to explore – presumably leaving another shepherd in charge. And the traditional story says that they found Jesus before he was eight days old. This would mean that Jesus was born in the spring, and I think that’s pretty well accepted by scholars – although somebody debates everything.
 
Our winter dating of Christmas comes from the Romans, who put it on “Sol Invictus Day”, or the Winter Solstice on December 21. They already had that “Sun Day” which was a celebration of the winter sun beginning its return north, and the days beginning to get longer. They just tied all of that to the Son of God, and added extra meaning to the day. Then Dionysius the Little, who was a monk/astronomer, made a mistake with the calendar, and Christmas ended up on December 25th instead of December 21st.
 
Well, back to our shepherds. The traditional story has the shepherds being the first visitors to the Christ Child. The lowest on the socio-economic ladder visits him first, followed by the Magi who would have been among the highest on the socio/economic ladder. This is interpreted to mean that Christ was born for everyone – from the lowest to the highest.
 
If you go to Bethlehem today, which now is a little Palestinian City, but was just a village when I was there 50 years ago, they will show you “Shepherd’s Field”, just downhill from the town. And they point out – probably correctly – that the sheep grazing in Shepherd’s Field today are descendants of the sheep that would have been grazing there when Jesus was born. And even the shepherds tending them might be descendants of the shepherds in the Christmas story. People over there will stay in one place for many generations, unless driven to move by war, or famine, or some disaster.
 
Now, we’re also told that when they found the baby, “they made known what had been told them.” Shepherds were gossips, and apparently still are. If you want to know what’s going on, ask a shepherd. They have nothing to do all day, standing around with their sheep, so they gossip. And the idea is that God sent them to Bethlehem to be messengers – to go out and tell the world about the angels appearing to them, and finding this baby boy, and being told that this was a special birth. And they would have gone immediately, and gossiped about it. This would have been a very exciting thing for these lowly shepherds. And the idea is that God used them to do what they could do best – spread the word.
 
Well, what does all of this say to us? First, I think it tells us that “the lore” has basis to it. It could easily have happened pretty much like Luke says it did. Secondly, it demonstrates God’s hand moving in the whole event – sending angels, sending shepherds, spreading the word – just sort of directing things.
 
And I firmly believe that still goes on – maybe without angels appearing – but I REALLY believe that God is still moving and active in this creation, and in my life, and in your life. It’s not all a fairy tale. It’s really happening, and I believe it with all my heart.
 
So Happy New Year –
   and Happy Name Day –
   and still, a Blessed Christmas.

Amen.

Posted January 3, 2017 by Church of the Epiphany in Epiphany Moments

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