Jesus is once again in Jerusalem. It is the festival of lights, the feast of dedication, Hanukah! And it is winter. But John is not giving us a weather report. No, beloved, John is describing his world. It was winter and the hearts of men were cold. It was winter and the Jews were unbelieving. It was winter and those for whom Jesus came were plotting His death. It was winter and the coldness of the world pressed around Jesus and even gathers around Jesus not so much to receive the warmth of His heart but to trap Him in His words and condemn Him. “Tell us plainly if you are the Christ.” They are not seeking the truth but merely a reason to cast stones.
The Lord has a taken a bride for Himself. Israel has a husband. At Sinai He pledged Himself to her with an everlasting love. “I will be your God and you shall be my people.” Sprinkled clean by the blood of the sacrifice, she answered, “We will do all that the Lord commands.” Yes, beloved the Lord has taken a bride for Himself. Israel has been bathed in the promises of Her God and Lord.
These shepherds weren’t anyone special according to the world’s definition of special. They didn’t dress in fine cloths. They didn’t frequent the hot spots of Jerusalem on the weekends. They weren’t chic, or hip, or trendsetters in any way. Nor were they pretending to be. They weren’t worried about their self-esteem. They didn’t doubt their purpose in life. They were simple keepers of sheep, watchers of the flock, defenders of animals too stupid to know the difference between a hill or a cliff. In many ways they were a lot like parents . . . and like parents today these shepherds weren’t much appreciated. They were despised. They were poor. They were unclean. And they shared the same fears that you and I suffer. They were afraid of failure – of losing their sheep to lions or wolves, or gravity. And like all men, they were afraid of death. Nevertheless these shepherds were keeping watch over their flocks by night. They were doing their job, keeping their vocation, working the work they had been given.
God has a plan, a purpose for John. God has a plan and purpose for you. Right now, John’s eyes are preaching a sermon that John’s heart struggles to bear. Everything he sees tells not of God’s grace but of God’s judgement. Your eyes are preaching to you this morning. What do you see? What is real? John is struggling with reality. What are your struggles? John is in prison.