Glory to God in the Highest
Quarter: Acts of Worship
Unit 1: In awe of God
Sunday school lesson for the week of Dec. 21, 2014
By Helen & Rev. Sam Rogers
Scripture: Luke 2:8-20
Background Scripture: Luke 2:1-20
On this Sunday before Christmas, our lesson is based on one of the most familiar and beloved Gospel texts. The details are familiar to most Christians: the decree from Caesar, the journey to Bethlehem, the manger, the birth of a baby, shepherds in the field, the angelic choir, and the decision to go to Bethlehem and see! All are well known and often told in worship and nativity plays.
Years ago there was such a nativity play in a local church. All the children took their roles very seriously. They were encouraged to really “live into” the part and not worry about memorizing words. When Joseph was begging the innkeeper for a place to stay and was told repeatedly there was “no room!” he urgently declared, “But my wife is going to have a baby,” to which the innkeeper replied emphatically, “That’s not my fault!” Joseph responded loudly and with emphasis, “It’s not my fault either!”
In the context of this quarter’s study we focus on our worship, and particularly standing in awe of God. Luke has given us a setting in which, as children of all ages, we stand in awe of what God is doing. This story never grows stale in the telling! We are truly standing on holy ground!
Luke is an intriguing person. We believe he becomes an acquaintance of Paul on the Second Missionary Journey. (See the famous “Macedonian call” passage in Acts 16 where the tense changes from third person to first! Was he the Macedonian?) His Greek is the best in the New Testament. He is referred to as “the beloved physician” in Colossians 4:14. He accompanies Paul on his journeys as mentioned frequently in the Book of Acts. He is the author of the Gospel bearing his name and of the Book of Acts, making up fully one fourth of the New Testament. His role as a physician brought him into contact with sick and suffering humanity. In the Disciple Bible Study, the chapter on Luke is called, “The Last, the Least, and the Lost.” Luke’s passion and compassion for these persons caused him to lift them up throughout the story of Jesus.
This emphasis in his gospel may be the reason why Luke chose shepherds to be the first humans (besides Mary and Joseph!) to witness the wonder of the Incarnation. Shepherds were the lowest class in society. No three kings for Luke! The time and place of Jesus’ birth are critical parts of the story.
There is a census taken to update the tax rolls. As law abiding citizens, Mary and Joseph make the difficult trek from Galilee in the north to Bethlehem, south of Jerusalem. Luke wants us to know why they made such a lengthy journey with Mary’s pregnancy far advanced. Their ancestor was David the king and Bethlehem was the ancestral home of David. Augustus was on the throne keeping the “Pax Romano” when the real prince of peace was being born in unusual circumstances, to say the least. The same word translated “inn” here is rendered “guest room” later in the account of the Last Supper. (Luke 22:11)
With the birth, Luke shifts the setting to pastures nearby where lowly shepherds are doing their daily job of looking after the flocks of sheep—and goats! Just recently we were reading our daily devotional guide, Disciplines, which is based on the weekly readings of the Common Lectionary. In the reading for September 1, based on Exodus 12:5 about preparing for the Passover meal it says: “Your lamb shall be without blemish, a year old male; you may take it from the sheep or the goats.” Knowing flocks were composed of sheep and goats helps us to better understand Jesus’ parable in Matthew 25!
Suddenly the night’s routine is forever shattered by the appearance of an angel with “news of great joy for all people,” shared first with these low caste shepherds. The place of shepherds in the social strata of society reminded Sam of what a banker said when he was financing a car. He said, “Sam, I’m taking a chance on you. We were told never to loan money to anyone whose job began with a “P”—plumbers, painters, or preachers.” Shepherds testimony would not hold up in court. To these lowly ones comes the “good news for all people.” A new age is coming, and values, status, and life will be different—and it starts here and now.
With the announcement made, worship begins with a heavenly choir singing the first Christmas carol: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will among people.” Not only do they sing the glory, the Glory (the Holy Presence) is there!
How do these men and boys, the shepherds, respond? With curiosity, wonder, hope and decisiveness! “Let’s go and see” becomes the theme of the night. As a child, I always wondered who looked after the flock left behind? Maybe that’s not so important for the moment! They will soon return to the routine work, but right now there is a matter of greater importance than their job!
They find everything just like they were told: the baby wrapped in bands of cloth lying in a manger. They went out to share the news of how they learned about the event. In a way, they were the first evangelists, sharing the story of Jesus. Their work is no longer boring, the pasture is sacred ground, and their lives will always be different because of that night of nights.
Mary, however, ponders the meaning of it all--remembering what the angel had said earlier to her about the future of this baby. “Mary did you know?” She is beginning a long journey of caring, loving, hurting and rejoicing as she nurtures a child, watches him become a man, listens to what the man says, cries as she watches him die, and stands amazed when she witnesses the glory of his resurrection. She had to have told all this to Luke at some point in the future or we would not read about it today. We still stand in awe of God’s way of saving the world.
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.