Friday, December 19, 2008

The Faith of the Shepherds

One of the most quotes sections of Scripture in church worship services around Christmas is the section in Luke 2 about the chorus of angels visiting the shepherds, a brief instant when eternity broke full force into our world.
8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Now, in our Hallmark-ed Christmas world, we have this idea that there was this star hanging over the stable/cave where Mary, Joseph and Jesus were and the shepherds get there right before the Three Wise Men and there's this beautiful mixing of the holy and the ordinary, the rich and the poor and all is right in the world.

Well, no matter what our nativity scenes say, we don't know how many wise men there were and they were definitely not at the Nativity. And the shepherds didn't have a star to guide them. If you notice what the angel said, the sign wasn't a star, it was a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manager. So what the shepherds probably had to was go around Bethlehem and look in feeding troughs for a baby. Probably asking permission of the owners of the stable, and basically looking like morons: "Uh... excuse me... Do, um... do you have a baby in your stable manger? We heard he's the Messiah..." "Heard? Heard from who?" "Ummmmm..." Shifts feet nervously, "The Angels..." The door slams. Until.... "Excuse me, do you have a baby in your stable?" The inkeeper looks embarrassed, "Yeah, but look, I didn't have a room and that was the only place and I'm not even charging them full...." He breaks off as the shepherds charge past him to the stable and there they see their sign, the baby wrapped in cloth, nestled in the feeding trough, that Joseph has cleaned out as best he can and put in some hay, giving Mary a chance to rest and sleep after the delivery. The shepherds worship him, knowing that even though the majority of Bethlehem now thinks they're idiots, they know the truth. They've found the promised King.

The King of the World, not born in a palace, attended by ministers and noblemen and the other kings of the world, but God already starts to defy expectations of what the Messiah will be, by having him lay with the animals, attended by shepherds willing to embarrass themselves throughout Bethlehem to find him.

That's the King we serve, that's the King we celebrate at Christmas.

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