..."and a highway shall be there, and it shall be called the way of holiness; evil minded people shall not travel on it, but it shall be for those wayfarers who are traveling toward God. (Isaiah 35:8, adapted)

Friday, December 23, 2011

Characters in the Christmas Story: The Shepherds

An integral part of the Christmas story are the shepherds. But if you or I  were going to write
this story, you probably wouldn't think to add the shepherds in. God did. Have you ever
wondered why God chose to send the angelic envoy to simple shepherds in a field to tell them
about Jesus' birth?

It would seem like if someone like God were going to announce that His Son had been born He
would have invited the religious bigwigs to a press conference, or call a UN meeting,
or call everyone to Camp David or something.  Thank God there is no one like God!
You've got to love Him, you've got to fall down and absolutely love Him that He decided to
tell a bunch of humble shepherds that the King of the Universe had just been
born in a stable and was now laying in an animal's feed trough in the backside of
some hotel's barn. Maybe they, in their simply humility, would be the ones most
likely to believe Him! For it showed God's humility in how He sent Jesus, so
of course He would first tell the humble of heart and life.

The Shepherds, and there is nothing told to us about them--not their names or their
political or religious views or anything--were simply out doing their job in the fields
outside Bethlehem when an angel appears to them with the Glory of God flashing
all around. The text says, with a penchant for understatement, that "they were
terribly afraid." I'll say! The angel tells them the Messiah has just been born and
that they will know it is Him when they find him wrapped in "swaddling" clothes
laying amongst the horse and cow feed.  Now if this had been a modern story,  the
shepherds would have had to worry that someone had laced their shepherd-ale with
mind-bending drugs. Especially when from behind the one angel, a whole army of
angels appears, praising God and glorifying Him. But this is first century
Bethlehem and God is at work.

So when the angels take off back to heaven the shepherds are now WIDE
awake, and I mean WIDE awake, and, despite their duty to their flock, they
have to go look for the baby.  They must have looked at each other
and said, "What in the world just happened?" But God had chosen them
wisely, as God always does, and off they go and sure enough,
find Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes, laying in a manger. Oh, my Lord!

Joseph probably tried to shew them away to give Mary some semblance
of privacy and dignity, but Mary must have said, "No, Joseph, let them
in, its OK" because of course, God had made a wise choice in Mary . Its
not like ANY of them are going to get any sleep and she wants to hear
their story.  And little baby Jesus, with his eyes still dripping with the
beauty of Heaven, looks sweetly up at them.

And what are those swaddling clothes anyway? Did they know? I looked into
it and they used to, and sometimes still do, wrap babies up tight with swaddling
clothes to keep them secure and from moving too much. You have to imagine
what Mary was thinking. "It's my duty to keep Him safe and clean and
I'm not going to let any part of Him touch that dirty manger that some
donkey may have licked." I know that if it were me I'd be so scared that I'd
drop the Baby or that He would roll out of the manger or something on the
first night and the whole plan of God would get disrupted.

On the other hand, she might also be afraid that maybe He might suddenly
go from being a baby to morphing into full blown God. It's not like she
had all the details. She had to have a lot of questions and fears.
On the one hand the swaddling clothes fulfilled what God had said, and
also, in those times, show that the baby is loved and wanted and
has a Father (cp Ezekiel 16:1-5)  but the behind-the-scenes punch line that
God probably shares with Mary is Him teasing her for thinking :
"Better to wrap Him up tight, Don't take any chances."
So He put it in Scripture and shares a  laugh with her each year when
the Christmas story is told, the kind of laugh that two people share when
they have gone through something great together.

As much as Mary wanted to keep all of this on the QT, God was a really
good PR man, thinking WAY outside the box, but in such a perfect way.
And now here are the shepherds with their story and Mary just kept
shaking her head as if trying to wake up from a dream
and saying, "Tell me again what happened in the field?"  Soon,
the shepherds had told just about everyone whether they cared
to hear or not.

Yet the shepherds had good hearts, and glorified and praised God for
all they had seen and heard. They were simple men who must have
just walked along quietly with God, doing their job. (Shepherds have
a lot of time to pray you know). . Its these kind of people that
Jesus came to and comes to now. "Blessed are the pure in heart
for they shall see God." And see God they did.

I love that God thought way of the box in every way, and in those
deep and dreamless streets, the Everlasting Light, came into
our world, and changed all our lives.

1 comment:

CaroleMcDonnell said...

Great post as usually. Will post the url on FB