I’ve been thinking about the Christmas story a lot lately. Part of that is that I work in a church and I’ve been involved in churchy stuff like a big Christmas production and planning for the Christmas eve service and all kinds of stuff like that. There’s another part of me that is just trying to see the whole thing in a new light. I’ve heard it many times, and I think this year I’ve tried to stop and make sure it’s not just becoming another nice fairy-tale like story that everyone can recite from memory, but no one really remembers why it’s as important as it was when they were kids.
One of the aspects I’ve been able to focus on a bit is the shepherds. They were the first to come visit Jesus after he was born, and they were told by a ‘heavenly host’ of angels (I’ll just assume that that’s a lot of them). If you haven’t read the story in a while, the part with the shepherds can be found here for a refresh.
I don’t really know much about shepherds, but I know more than I did a few days ago. First, they were generally the outcast of Jewish society – even though many of the heros of the bible were shepherds. They did a dirty job, didn’t keep the kosher laws, often stole sheep or other things, grazed animals on land that wasn’t their own, and were generally counted as untrustworthy. A shepherd couldn’t testify in court – their word was worth nothing. Not exactly the shining friendly guys with staffs that we usually see in the nativity.
There’s something revolutionary about this – as there tends to be everywhere when you look at Jesus. Not only is this a virgin birth of a promised Messiah, it all starts with an announcement that is a shadow of things to come. The religions system will be abolished – it’s not based on our human standards and systems, but instead on God’s grace and power.
Who does God decide to tell first about this miracle birth of the long awaited messiah? The outcasts and those who were probably some of the farthest from actively seeking him – a bunch of dishonest, unclean shepherds. (besides his mother and father of course… interestingly enough the first to know was a woman – also counter cultural for the time).
I had the opportunity to write a song from the shepherds perspective for our Christmas eve service. It’s an account of the angels visit and the shepherds visit to this newborn child, but even more a reflection from the perspective of the shepherd of why God would have chosen him (and them) to be the first to hear this news. I’ll post the lyrics tommorow sometime for those who are interested. I pray I will continue to be shaped and amazed by the mystery and power of Jesus’ birth.