|The Private Intellectual
Ecclesiastes-Based Real Estate Advice
Thursday, December 25, 2014
Rev. Ben Dueholm
Christmas Eve, 2014
Messiah Lutheran Church, Wauconda
“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘ Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger.”
Help Wanted: Consolidated Sheep Products of Judea is seeking dedicated, hard-working individuals to shepherd their growing Bethlehem-based flock. Well-qualified applicants will have:
* a good working knowledge of sheep, their grazing habits, physical needs, and life-cycle.
* a willingness to work as a team under supervision and in varying circumstances
* a passion for the outdoors
* a strong tolerance for cold, heat, wind, and rain and long periods of total solitude
* no compromising political commitments
* no religious obligations
* a desire for flexible compensation and lots of intangible benefits
* a willingness to wait with the flock through any and all occurrences, up to and including the coming of the Messiah
No experience necessary; we will train the right person.
The stars are some comfort and some company, it must be said. The Judean countryside is pleasant. And sheep are not the worst animals to care for. But the waiting—that must have been hard. But then something happened—a voice, a vision, a song of glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace, good will on earth to those whom God favors. Then, all of a sudden, it is time to go.
I love these Judean shepherds. I love them because the story of the birth of Jesus finds them in the middle of things, in the middle of life. Which is where it finds us. All of us came from somewhere else today. Maybe we tore ourselves away from a roaring fire or a mildly diverting college bowl game or a table well-laden with food. Maybe we wrapped up a last little bit of work, a last email or spreadsheet for our colleagues before a night and a day off. Maybe we are trying, this day at least, to do without something our body demands every day.
Maybe we’re waiting. Maybe we’re fidgeting in our seats, trying politely not to check our phone, projecting the length of the rest of the service after the wild-card of the sermon. We all have our roles to play in this world, however small. The great machine of the world grinds on out there and each of us has a place in it.
But tonight we are not playing those roles; tonight we are not occupying those places. Tonight we have come here—to this manger, this mother, this meal, this child. Maybe we came with haste, maybe we came with hesitancy, but here we are all the same.
The shepherds went with haste to see the thing that the Lord made known to them. They left their animals on a hillside and met God in a stable. They left their little patch of earth and came inches away from the King of Heaven. They ran from their little role, their little gear in the great machine of the world and went to a place where they were embraced as humans. They ran because they were not made with all of God’s majestic artistry, they were not framed in a miraculous assembly of muscle and bone and blood and brain, in order to sit in their place and give their lives to their sheep. They were not gifted with the Law of God and the call of the Prophets and the tender love of their own mothers and the singing desires of their own hearts in order to tap out emails and update spreadsheets and run for a last-minute gift that has no hope of expressing the love it is meant to represent.
Their mighty, agile legs were not made to run in circles—to make haste in going nowhere. Their eyes were not meant to stare up at the stars in waiting, or to flutter while a screen refreshes. Their legs were made to run to their Savior, and their eyes were made to behold him.
Jesus draws them near. Without saying a word, without even being able to recognize his own creation, Jesus draws the shepherds near. He calls to them in their need, in their hope, in their waiting. He calls to them in their love that was homeless until this night.
He calls to them. He calls to you. He calls to me. He calls to the woman in the senior apartments who has forgotten virtually everything else about her life. He calls to the prisoner. He calls to the family he has left behind. He calls to the addict. He calls to the parents who pray for her. He calls to the person who can’t bear the thought of the long holiday flight and he calls to the person who can’t afford to travel and the one who has no time to visit family and the one who has no family left to visit anyway. He calls to them because the world wants to make them small—to make them as small as their job description and their credit card statement—but he wants to make them great. He calls to them because they know they are sinners but God is rich in mercy. He calls to them because the world wants to keep them right where they are but they know, deep in their bones, that they are not meant to stand still.
So they go with haste. They see the child wrapped in swaddling clothes and Mary and Joseph and the manger, and they go away rejoicing.
The stars don’t show themselves too clearly here, but the television is some comfort and some company. The forest preserves offer good jogging and biking. And the work is not so bad. It’s good to have work. But the waiting, that’s hard. The hurrying to nowhere in particular, that’s hard. But then something happens—a voice, a vision, a song of glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace, good will to those whom God favors. And it is still not too late to make haste, to bump our heads and scuff our knees as we approach the manger and smell the animals and the hay and see the mother and Joseph and the infant; it’s still not too late to let go of earth and take hold of heaven; to let go of our smallness and take hold of greatness; to let go of waiting and finally see, and embrace, and love, and be loved by the One we were waiting for.
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