January 1, 2023 Reflection and Worship Link

Picture of Rev. Carla Wilks

Rev. Carla Wilks

Associate Minister

Reflecting the Sacred

“Sacred Doing”

Scripture Reading: Luke 2:15-21  

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Maybe you have heard this reading before… in fact just last week at our Christmas Eve service this story of the shepherds being visited by the angel was part of the story that we told, and that we tell every year.  But this morning this story stands alone, it is not told as part of the whole Christmas story, instead we focus in on these shepherds to explore their significance and how we might relate to them.


During Advent and Christmas with our theme we’ve looked through the lens of the sacred and have experienced time, people, places, others, and ourselves as God’s holy love reflected and incarnate in the world. Today we look at what we do and where we go from here. 


Often when we hear this story of the shepherds, we as the readers, or the hearers, follow the author from one scene to the next, and even from one Gospel to the next, picking up other important pieces along the way to form a more comprehensive picture of the story of Jesus’ birth.  We know about Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary and so we learn of Jesus divine status. We know about Joseph and about Mary’s travels, and we know about her visit with her cousin Elizabeth.  We also know how the story ends.  We know about Jesus’ earthly ministry, the way that he reflected the sacred in his life and through his death.  And we know about the Easter story as well.  How his death was not the end of his story. 


We know a lot more about Jesus than the shepherds did when the heavenly hosts suddenly appeared to them.  Yet the shepherds reacted to what they saw and heard with genuine curiosity, trust and a willingness to follow. 


When I put myself in the place of those shepherds, I’m not sure that I would have reacted in the same way.  I might have thought that I was seeing things, or having a dream or just that it was all in my mind, but I’m not sure that I would have reacted with genuine curiosity, trust and a willingness to follow!  And never mind my own reaction – if I were to tell anyone – who is going to believe me?  Even if I had the wherewithal to get out my cellphone and start recording the interaction, I’m pretty sure when people saw it they would assume that it was not real but some kind of fancy editing skills that created the video of these so-called heavenly hosts appearing to me.


When the shepherds found the holy family in the stable, they passed along the message from the heavenly hosts.  This message was good news to Mary and Joseph, as it confirmed what they had been told by the angel as well. 


Luke has drawn us into a story of unique characters who stand out in their context. Some are not named, but each represent very real lives and circumstances, very real sorrows and hopes.

Like the unnamed workers effected by the decision making of politicians, the shepherds represent a number of common folk, seemingly incidental to the decision making of Caesar, but paramount in the decision making on behalf of the one who will be called the Son of God. Only recently have we truly attended to their status in the first century — the workers, the rest of the world. These are the ones who occupy the guest room in Bethlehem to see if the angel’s message is true – these common folk.


These lowly shepherds then returned to the fields praising and glorifying God.  They believed what the angel said – that their lives would never be the same again. 


Everything that they did from that time on was done with this sacred encounter and experience in their mind and in their heart. 


From that point on – their lives had more meaning, all that they did was a reflection of these sacred moments that they had experienced. 


During the last few years at the height of the pandemic, when we were not able to do our regular things, most of our regular activities were put on pause, we had a lot of conversations at Sunday Zoom Coffee and with friends about what life would look like on the other side.  How would our lives and our schedules be different? Would we fill our time just for the sake of filling it as we might have before, or would we be more intentional about how we spend our time?  I think for many people, having been changed by that experience, they set the intention to spend their time doing things that mattered to them.  I think this is a way that we can reflect the sacred in our “doing” – by making sure that we are doing those things that are important to us. 


I think that many of us have had experiences – maybe not ones involving a multitude of heavenly hosts – but very significant in our lives nonetheless.  Perhaps a death of someone in our life that without whom we knew that life would be forever changed… perhaps a big change in our life, welcomed or not, either way – still a change that shakes up life as we knew it.  Or a diagnosis or medical event that changed our life.  Or any number of other things.  Once we make it through the turmoil and chaos that these types of events can cause, these life altering experiences can shift our focus or give us clarity in our lives from that point on. 


Like the lowly shepherds, whose ordinary lives are changed by their participation in the extraordinary event, the birth of the Christ Child, may we like the shepherds also recognize the times in our lives that such extraordinary events occurred, causing us to shift priorities and determine what is important for us. 


May we, like the shepherds, have the courage and integrity to pass on the good news in all its richness and simplicity.  May we, like the lowly shepherds, with enthusiasm and authenticity, share God’s message of love and justice for ALL that we know – because we know the rest of the story – that message that Jesus was born to bring. 


In this New Year, as we turn a new page and begin 2023, let us remember that in all that we do, we have the opportunity to reflect the sacred through our actions, through our commitments and through our interactions.  God’s divine light shines through you and God’s divine light shines through me.  Thanks be to God.  Amen.