The Message, July 31, 2022, Shepherds! And Angels! And Magi! Oh My!

The Message, July 31, 2022, Shepherds! And Angels! And Magi! Oh My!

Author: Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
August 02, 2022


“Shepherds! And Angels! And Magi! Oh My!”
A Christmas Message by Rev. Scott W. Cousineau
Luke 2:1-20

            How many of you have had the opportunity to be in a Christmas pageant? Raise your hands.

            Now … how many of you have never had the opportunity to play a part in a pageant? Raise your hands.

            For those of you who have never been in a pageant … let me ask you … why not?

            Were you shy? Was acting is not your thing? Perhaps you were not active in a church growing up?      Perhaps you were never selected to play one of the parts?

            I grew up in the church. My mother is a minister … so … I was there. I am a little shy. Yes … it is true. And acting is definitely my thing. But I have never been in a Christmas pageant. Well ... I have been the narrator. I suppose that counts. I have written Christmas pageants. I have directed Christmas pageants. But I have never played one of the parts in a pageant. (Maybe my mom thought that people in the church family would get upset if her son was in the pageant every year!

            So, I thought that I would correct that situation this morning. It IS Christmas in July, and I am going to give myself the best Christmas gift ever … I am going to play EVERY part in the Christmas pageant!!!

            [Roll the sheep onto the chancel. Set up the manger. Bring up the costumes.]

            Okay … here we go!

            No … I am not going to do that. I am not that selfish. But we ARE going to experience the story together. And why not? Why should we not tell the story in July? It is the Greatest Story Ever Told! Why would we only experience the story one time per year?

            When I was on the faculty of the Youth Conference many years ago, I was asked to teach the Bible course. I will say that generally speaking, most of the youth at the Christian youth conference were not really excited about taking the Bible course. Basically, the first year that I taught the course, I got all of the youth who had no other options. My course was the only course with any openings. {Sad face emoji.}

            So, I decided that I would make the course interesting … and maybe even fun! I loaded up my car with ALL of the Christmas pageant costumes and brought them to camp. I told the kids that we were not going to simply read and discuss the scripture passages, we were going to experience them together.

            At first, they were reluctant. They were a little too cool to play dress up and put on the costumes. But eventually they got into it, they even enjoyed it! Wearing the costumes, walking in the shoes of the figures in the scripture passages gave them an entirely different understanding. I asked them to walk around the camp dressed as their characters. It was literally the same principle as asking someone to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.

            [The next year, the Experiencing the Bible course was the FIRST course to fill up!]

            Some of you were here in December when we did the Brown Bag Pageant. We did that pageant at my previous church several years ago. I will never forget the woman named Jan, who selected the bag that had Mary’s costume in it crying as she came down the aisle. After the service, I asked her why she had been crying. She told me that it meant so much for her to play Mary now that she was a mother and a grandmother herself.

            Now, you may be disappointed when I tell you that we are not going to be putting costumes on this morning. We do not have enough costumes for everyone to put one on, and I do not want to be the person that has to pick who gets to participate and who does not. You will ALL be able to participate. You will ALL be able to wear every costume. We will use that wonderful gift known as our imagination.

            The beauty of this “pageant” is that we are not restricted by any traditional, binary gender role assignments. You can all imagine yourselves as every character.

            So, put on your imagination caps and travel with me to First Century Palestine. Let us experience the story together!

            Can you imagine that you are JOSEPH?

            Good, steadfast Joseph. Working as a carpenter, a stone mason beside your father and your brothers. It was good, honest work. You and your family constructed and repaired homes in the region of Nazareth, a little village set in a small valley.

            The time had come for you to begin your own family. You went to Mary’s family and made the traditional marriage arrangements. You were betrothed. In a year, you would be married. And after that … children … grandchildren … a happy life.

            Can you imagine? Can you wear Joseph’s clothes?

            Can you imagine that you are MARY?

            You are a traditional young woman, working around the house beside your mother. Learning all of the skills that it takes to run a household. You have given no thought to being anything other than a traditional wife and mother.

            You learn that you been pledged to be married. Joseph is a good man, from a good family. The betrothal will be good for you and for your own family.

            Can you imagine …

            Can you imagine that you are the Angel Gabriel?

            This may be a little bit more difficult for us. We do not know what angels do when they are not visiting people in their dreams or delivering divine messages.

            We do not know how they fill their days, or even if they have any sense of days, or time. How busy are they? How many visitations do they do? How many messages do they deliver?

            Have you ever delivered a message like the one that God asked to be carried to Mary? How does an angel react to that assignment? Even as an angel, you must have had a heart bursting with joy … and excitement … and whatever else angels experience in the most amazingly wonderful moments!

            Can you imagine …

            Can you imagine yourself back with Mary? Can you imagine receiving that news?
Everything that you had imagined or expected for your life is out the window. Yours will not be the life of a traditional wife and mother.

            Just the fact that you were visited by an angel already sets you apart from most every other person on earth! But the angel’s message! You are going to carry a child that will be God’s own son!

            Who do you tell? How do you share that news?! If it happened today, you would make a Tik Tok video and share it with the world. But in that culture … in that day … what do you do? No one would believe you. You would bring shame upon your family.

            Can you imagine yourself back as Joseph?

            You discover that you precious Mary … your betrothed wife … is carrying a baby. You know that you have been faithful to the traditional covenant of your betrothal. But … Mary! What do you do? Dismiss her before she brings shame to you and your family? You are from the House of David! You cannot dishonor your family.

            But then you have a dream. You receive a visitation. You are told that everything will be fine. Mary has been faithful as well. Your child will be a special child. Remain faithful, Joseph. Trust, Joseph.

            You awake from your dream and all of your fears and doubts have been swept away. They have been replaced by an overwhelming feeling of love and concern for Mary and the Child.

            Can you imagine that you are the INNKEEPER?

            Depending upon the pageant script that you have been using, the innkeeper can be portrayed as being mean or angry. Sometimes your lines are limited to two words: “No room!”

            But imagine that you are the keeper of a guest house as the city is flooded with hundreds of thousands of visitors. They have all travelled from all over the country so that they can be registered.

            You have been brought up steeped in the tradition of hospitality. You know that you are required to invite guests to spend the night. You know that you are required to extend the invitation three times. You know that failure to do so brings shame upon you.

            Your guest house may only have two or three rooms, and you are stuffing people wherever you can find a spot. And then that young couple arrives at your door. They are clearly exhausted. She is clearly pregnant. Your heart aches for them. A woman in her condition needs someplace quiet … private. You cannot stuff them into a corner in the pantry. It is not much, but it will be quiet in the barn out back.

            You just did a wonderful thing for the couple. But you have no idea just how wonderful it truly will be!

            Can you imagine that you are a SHEPHERD?

            Most of the children do not want to play you in the pageant. They have been told that you are dirty and smelly. They have been told that you do not go to synagogue or to the Temple, implying that you are not faithful.

            Being a shepherd is an honorable trade. You care for all of the sheep in the village, not just your own. You keep them safe from predators. You guide them to the seasonal grazing grounds. You lead them to water that is safe for them to drink. You treat the sheep as if they are your own family.

            You are watching over those sheep when the heavens explode with light and sound. You have never experienced anything like this ever before! You do not know anyone else that has either. If they had, they certainly would have shared that story around the campfire!

            You are stunned! Shocked! Amazed! The word that is used to say “fearful” also can mean “in awe.” Certainly, there may be some fear mixed in the awe. Who would not be startled … even a little fearful … when confronted by such a spectacular event!

            Those angels are telling you to get up and go! Leave the sheep and go into town. Something amazing is happening! Something that will be amazing for you and for the whole world!! You have never abandoned the sheep before … but how can you not?! You have never had angels appear before either!!! You have to go!! You have to see!!

            Can you imagine that you are one of the MAGI?

            You are the one that everyone wants to play in the pageant. You are a mysterious traveler from the East. You get to wear the best costumes and carry fabulously precious gifts.

            Throughout ancient literature, there are accounts of magi travelling to the courts of kings and princes, interpreting signs that they perceived in the heavens, bringing news.

            You are learned. You study the skies and you read ancient manuscripts. You are familiar with the words of the prophets and the sages of old.

            You see an occurrence in the heavens that you can only describe as fantastic! No … it is beyond fantastic! What is a word to describe it? There is not one!

            You have to follow this. You have to see if what you believe to be true is really happening! You call the others. “Look at this! Can you see this? Do you know what this means? Let us go then and follow that sign in the heavens!”

            You call your servants, gather together your supplies, pack a gift or two, and you head off an adventure. You have no idea where you are going. You have no idea how long it will take. But you have to go. You have to see!!

            And now we return to Mary and Joseph.

            You are exhausted, but safe. Your baby is wrapped in bands of cloth, and he is sleeping on Mary’s breast. All the words of angels and visions of dreams have been forgotten in that tender moment. Your entire focus is upon the Child.

            He is Precious.

            In our imagining today, we had the opportunity to embody every character in the story. We had the opportunity to put on their clothing and to walk around in them … even if it was only in our minds.

            But the reality is that we have the opportunity to embody them every day of our lives. Not just when we are in the Sunday school pageant, not just on Christmas Day or Christmas Eve, but every day.

            We can be Joseph … steadfast, true, and faithful. Strong in our love and care for our spouse or our children. Strong in our obedience to God.

            We can be Mary … giving “birth” to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. We can embody the Word Made Flesh in our own lives. We can love and serve and sacrifice just as Jesus taught and modeled for us.

            We can be the innkeeper … that offers hospitality, that offers welcome in a world that all-too-often slams the door in the face of the “stranger,” or the immigrant, or the poor. We can say, “We are crowded, but we can make room for you too.”

            We can be the shepherd … diligent, hard-working, caring for our community, tending the flock. It was not a coincidence when Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me? Then tend my sheep.”

            We can be the Magi … visionaries that follow a sign from God, willing to trust, willing to step out into the unknown, carrying our gifts wherever we go.

            We can even be the angels … singing our songs of praise to God, sharing the Good News with our lives.

            We ARE the Christmas pageant! We ARE the Christmas message … in December … in July … every day! So put on the clothing of the characters, walk around in them, embody them. Share the Good News with everyone that you meet.

            May God bless you, and may God bless others through you. Amen.


Congregational Church