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Redneck Christmas

To understand Christmas, we must understand God's holiness and admit our sinfulness.

Editor's note: The following monologue is delivered in character by a shepherd named Larry. There was a live nativity scene on stage for the Children's sermon. As the children were dismissed one of the shepherds stayed on stage. He took his robe off—revealing his outfit of blue jeans, boots, a plaid shirt with the arms torn off, and a baseball cap—walked to the center of the stage, and began speaking. Further stage directions will appear in brackets.

Larry the shepherd introduces himself.

Dadgum, y'all look pretty. Your pastor said he wanted a living fertility scene, or some such thing; and then he asked me to stick around and tell my story. My name is Larry, and I'm a shepherd. I ain't no genius, so I brung some notes so I wouldn't forget nothing. Your fancy pants pastor probably doesn't need them, but I do. Before we begin, I know what some of you is thinking. "Why'd you take your sheet off?" Well, that was for show. We wore sheets and towels alright, but that was only 'cause we didn't have access to fine apparel like this. See, I'm a Jew from Bethlehem just south of Jerusalem. Some of my flocks supplied the Levites in the temple.

Now some of you may be a little bit perturbed. You're thinking, Dadgum, it's Christmas Eve. I got dressed up and everything. And now I gotta listen to this redneck. I been to the mall, and I seen the nativity scenes. Them shepherd boys look nice and respectful and clean. This feller looks like he stinks. An' it's Christmas, for gosh sakes. Well, if that's you, maybe you don't get the concept. Religious folks in my day didn't get the concept, neither: Concept C=Christmas. To understand Concept C, you gotta understand Concept A and Concept B.

Larry explains Concept A: holiness.

"A" stands for stuff like A+, Antiseptic, Angelic, and Alleluia Amen. "A" stands for hagias. In the Greek, hagias begins with "A," and it means "holy." God is Holy. Now, no one knew for sure what holy meant, except we was pretty sure it didn't mean sheep droppings, spit, and sin. It meant clean. Everything unclean was to be atoned for—made up for—and then the unclean thing was disposed of "outside the camp." In my day, Jerusalem was "the camp." Inside of Jerusalem was the temple, and inside the temple was the Holy of Holies. That's where Concept A was the strongest—the Agnus Dei, the Glory of God. Them priests and Levites that worked the temple had to constantly clean themselves—use perfume, take baths, and such—and not just them, but every good Jew. Some bathed three times a day (looked like dadgum prunes). [Larry walks to the right side of the stage.] Think of Concept A right here—clean, holy, God, the temple. And over here [Larry walks to the left side of the stage]: Concept B.

Larry explains Concept B: sin.

"B" stands for bottom, backward, bad, and barn. Concept B is my barn. Of course, it wasn't my barn; it was my boss's barn. And it wasn't really a barn, but more like a stable or stall for animals; a shelter and a manger. It was full of dirt and mess. Not necessarily sin, but you see, the product of sin—dirt, decay, and death. It was just about as "outside the camp" as you could get. You know, I seen some of these Christmas cards you get. I looked at every last nativity scene at the mall. I don't think you get the concept. A manger is a feed bin; it's full of dirt and bacteria. Concept B is full of stink, and that's where a shepherd lives. Maybe that's where we all live. It's like the stink is inside us just trying to get out.

Some of you sitting here right now look so pretty, and you're just trying to hold the stink in. That's what most religion is—Concept B covered in holy words and such. Like white washed tombs—pretty on the outside; full o' stink on the inside. That's called hypocrisy. Well, we shepherds weren't only stinking on the inside, we was stinking on the outside. We couldn't hide the stink. Maybe you're here tonight, all nervous and scared 'cause your losing a game of "Hide the Stink." Maybe you been drinking yourself to sleep every night. Maybe you had an abortion. Maybe you're cheating on your wife or fixing to leave your husband. Maybe you been thinking about taking your own life 'cause you're losing a game of "Hide the Stink," and now you're in a room full of religious folks on Christmas Eve, feeling a million miles away from God and Christmas and such. But I tell you what. You may be closer to Christmas than you think, for in order to see Christmas—Concept C—you gotta be honest about Concept B. You gotta lose the game of "Hide the Stink."

Well, we shepherds lost at "Hide the Stink." Even though there was famous shepherds in the Bible, everybody looked down on us in Bethlehem. We were unclean. You see, if you touch a dead animal you didn't kill or get the wrong kind of bodily "excretia" on you, you're unclean. We was always unclean. But the only way to get clean was to sacrifice a lamb. How's that for double bind? They needed us and wouldn't touch us. They sacrificed lambs everyday in the temple. At Passover they'd sacrifice thousands of them. It was the way we got clean, not just from dirt and mess, but from sin. I didn't exactly understand it, but the lambs was like a gift to God or payment or something. I figured we must've had a sick God and a sick religion. We raised sheep for wool. Me and the boys would eat a lamb if we had to, but you gotta understand, dogs weren't pets in Israel—lambs was. They were so innocent and fuzzy and cute. Why, they'd learn your voice and follow you around. That's how we'd shepherd our sheep. They knew our voices. Well, the priests and the pastors, they didn't care for the sheep. The sheep didn't know their voice. That's why they had to build so many fences and walls. King David said, "The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want." The Lord a shepherd? That didn't make no sense to me. Maybe a shepherd who just led his sheep to the slaughter. See, I supplied the temple with sacrificial lambs, and it wasn't pretty.

My connection was a feller they'd make High Priest in just a few years. You can read about him in your Bible. The feller's name was Annas. He needed me, but he'd hardly talk to me. Didn't even know my last name. He called me "Larry the Sheep Guy" or "Redneck." Redneck … everyone makes fun of rednecks 'till their camel gives out in the desert, or they need a lamb come Passover. Abraham was a redneck—a shepherd that married his half-sister. Israel did the same. Jacob means "cheat," and he fathered all Israel 'cause his four wives and girlfriends had a cheating fertility contest. The whole bunch was constantly on the move. Israel practically invented the travel trailer. The entire country was like one gigantic trailer park. Even King David had been a shepherd boy in Bethlehem. The Bible is the history of God and the rednecks. Of course, I didn't see that then, 'cause the religion industry worked so hard at playing "Hide the Stink."

Well, they was using me, and so they hated me, and I hated me and everyone else. I stunk on the outside, and I stunk on the inside. I knew I stunk. I was a Concept B. And God? Well, He was over in Concept A, if there was a Concept A. And if there was a God, surely he didn't care about me—good for nothing redneck, Larry the Sheep Guy. I covered my pain by making light of everything—a comedian. I had one friend, Harold. He covered his pain with just plain mean. We called him "the Harold." Well, come Passover time, I thought the Harold would go psycho with rage on them priests and against God. The Harold said he didn't believe in God, which meant he hated God. I suppose I hated God, too. How about you? You hate God? Well, I was depressed. I had an inferiority complex. Course, I wasn't very good at it.

Larry explains Concept C: Christmas.

Well, one night, we was out abiding in the fields. I says to the Harold, "I wonder if God gives a rip for fellers like you and me." And just then, this huge glowing angel thing appeared overhead. It was realer than real. I mean, it was more Concept A than I ever seen. So we hit the dirt. We was "sore afraid." But this angel says to us, "Fear not!" Yeah, right. "Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that shall be to all people. For unto you (Larry the Sheep Guy) is born this day in the city of David, a savior who is Christ the Lord."

And suddenly with the Angel there was a multitude of the heavenly host. A heavenly host is an army—about twelve legions, I figured. Them bad boys had flaming swords and fire and alleluia amen. They was clean. When I saw them I figured, This is it for planet Earth—Judgment Day. I braced myself, and then I heard singing. They was singing, "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men." I looked over at the Harold, and he was just white as a sheet. I suppose he was rethinking that "Ain't no God" statement. I said, "Hark, the Harold, angels are singing." You saw that one coming didn't you? I apologize. I joke around because I'm so dadgum glad. They sang to me—to me—no name, good for nothing, redneck Larry. I heard about a poor, lonely shepherd in Montana. All he had was an out-of-tune fiddle and a battery powered radio. Used to love to listen to the Chicago symphony, and he wanted to play along. So he wrote a letter, and one evening thousands listened as they heard these words, "The orchestra will now play an "A" for a sheep herder in Montana." They did, and that shepherd tuned his fiddle and played along.

I felt like the angels wanted me to sing along in tune with "A"—Concept A. Then it hit me, "Unto you is born this day, a savior who is Christ the Lord," said the angel. That's the Messiah he's talking about. "And this will be a sign for you. You'll find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger." A manger! Well, the angels sang, and then all at once they was gone. In a daze, Harold and me and the boys start walking toward Bethlehem. I figured a sign for "Christ the Lord" would be that he glowed or floated or something. You must figure that, too; you got them glowy babies in your nativity scenes. You sing, "Radiant beams from thy holy face." If he glowed, Herod wouldn't have had to kill all them babies. He could've just said to his soldiers, "Boys, only kill the floating glowy ones." The point is, he was born in a manger, and nobody would've even seen him, except the angels tipped us off. Thousands were out and about that night, and no one saw. No one knew 'cause no one would look into the stink that was my stable. You see, the only manger between us and Bethlehem was in my stable. Most unclean place in all of Israel—the epicenter of Concept B. Now, we was rednecks, but even we fellers wouldn't even think of putting no baby in a feed bin in the stable.

I remember running around the fence, and sure enough there was these two kids and the smell of blood, birth waters, and sweat. There was a pile of rags in the feed bin, and out of the rags, a baby was crying. You try being born in a barn and stuck in a feed bin. You'd cry, too! And don't you see? That's the miracle: That Christ the Lord would cry his tears in my manger—that the Prince of Glory would choose to be born in my empty pain. I stood there a second, taking it all in.  The sweet young gal that was the child's mother apologized to me. She says, "There was no room at the inn." They told us their story. The whole time I'm thinking, "This is the Messiah, the Commander of God's Army; this is the Holy One, the Alleluia Amen. This is Concept A in the very heart of Concept B. Religion and hypocrisy was all Concept B hiding behind Concept A. This was Concept A born into the heart of Concept B, making Concept C—Christmas. Concept A + Concept B=Concept C.

It was an invasion—a surprise attack through my manger. God was invading planet earth with Concept A: The Glory of God, the Light, the Truth, the Life, the Word, and the Fire. And Concept A weren't just a "concept," but a person. A person born in my barn. The Lord was a redneck, and a comedian, 'cause this was funny. Not a sarcastic kind of funny; like a joke deeper than every drop of pain in this whole world. Everybody was chasing power and glory, running away from my stable. Then the Prince of Glory is born in my manger. The priests and scribes, they's all building fences and walls to keep the holiness in and keep me out, and then my manger becomes the Holy of Holies. I don't care who you are, that's funny!

The joke is called "grace," and if you could just laugh at yourself, he could be born in your manger. The joke's on you 'cause it's for you. He wants to surprise you with unspeakable joy. That's what every good daddy wants on Christmas. You set your kid up for joy. You say, "I don't think we could afford the deluxe plastic action shepherd fun set." Then on Christmas morning, you give them their greatest dream—the deluxe plastic action shepherd and the entire farm fun set. And you know, if the kids think they earned it, you can't give it. By definition, it ain't a gift no more—it's payment. Most folks don't give gifts nor get gifts on Christmas. They negotiate trade agreements. That's what Annas and Caiaphas was doing. I think that's why Jesus was born in my manger. 'Cause I knew I couldn't pay, and I couldn't hide the stink. So I got the gift. Concept A was born into Concept B, which makes Concept C—Christmas.

Back to the story. The Harold walks over and just picks the Lord up. The Lord stopped crying, like he found his home in Harold's arms. Harold started laughing and singing—singing to him, the Lord. I ain't never seen Harold remotely like this. A shiver went down my spine, and I thought, "Good God, don't let them priests get ahold of this Lamb." I buried that thought. We sat there for hours. Then the Harold went nuts. He really was "the herald." He went running through the streets of Bethlehem, yelling about angels and God and the Messiah and our filthy stable. All the people came from their homes, gathered in the streets, and said to Harold, "Shut up you stupid, drunk, redneck shepherd." Well, you know the story. Herod comes after Jesus, and they descend into Egypt. They eventually return to Nazareth. And Nazareth is a redneck town. Jesus was a redneck from Nazareth—born in a barn, to an unwed, pregnant, teenage virgin. That there's about as redneck as you can get.

I started going to Synagogue. Once I heard the Rabbi read the prophet Isaiah: "Surely he has born our griefs and carried our sorrows … like a lamb that is led to the slaughter." Every Passover, I'd get nervous—not 'cause my lambs were being slain but 'cause I couldn't stop thinking about the Lord. Thirty years later he showed up around Bethlehem, and John the Baptizer says, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world." For three years Jesus preached. I was an old man then, but I followed him like a little lamb. I knew his voice; he is the Good Shepherd.

Well, it was Passover when the false shepherds—Annas, Caiaphas, the priests, and pastors—took him, spilt his blood in the city, and then took him outside the camp and had him crucified. I figured any second the twelve legions of angels would show—Judgment Day, at last. Well, the angels didn't show. But it was Judgment Day. Right before he died, he cried out, "Father forgive them," and then it hit me like a board to the head. The Lamb of God, the Spotless Lamb, the Perfect Sacrifice—Jesus was this Lamb. Jesus is the Love of God, poured out over the entire stinking world. Angels didn't invade, 'cause their Commander was invading with mercy—the very heart of Concept A. So you see, the temple, the lambs, the prophecies, my empty pain, the whole stinking world, even Concept B—it was all a set-up so we could receive Concept C: Christ Jesus. Christ in me. Christmas in me. God in me. Concept A in me, like a living temple. Now, he rose from the dead, and he makes all things new, including all them lambs. He rose, but I think the real miracle is that he descended, that he chose to be born in my manger, my heart, my empty pain.


Even now Concept A is hiding in Concept B; in the "last and least;" in hobos and shepherds. It's Christmas all around you, and it can be Christmas inside you. He's waiting for you in your Concept B, for only there can you truly receive his Grace. Only there are you truly poor in spirit, so only there can you believe the gift that is himself. You been looking for God? Where will you find him? Last place you'd expect: wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in your manger. So if you want to find him, you gotta stop playing "Hide the Stink." That is, confess your stink.

Are you mad at God? Are you ashamed of yourself? Maybe you're hiding the stink in drugs or booze. Maybe you hide the stink in hypocrisy and lies, or in religion and good deeds. Maybe you hide the stink in jokes or in just plain mean like Harold. Stop playing "Hide the Stink." Confess and receive God's grace. Concept A in Concept B=Jesus Christ.

For the outline of this sermon, go to "Redneck Christmas."

Peter Hiett is pastor of The Sanctuary Downtown in Denver, Colorado, and author of Dance Lessons for Zombies (2005).

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Sermon Outline:

Larry the shepherd introduces himself.

Larry explains Concept A: holiness.

Larry explains Concept B: sin.

Larry explains Concept C: Christmas.


Confess your "stink," which is your sin, and accept God's grace.