Every Christmas during my childhood my parents would set out on the hutch in the living room a lovely crèche. It was a substantial scene, including many of the characters believed to be present at the birth of Jesus—the Holy Family of course, along with a wide variety of people and animals. Hanging out in the corner was a shepherd.
I don’t know about you, but in 43 years of life, I’ve only encountered shepherds in nativity scenes and Bible stories. Stories like the Christmas story at the beginning of Luke’s gospel. In that story, angels do not visit the manger or a temple, but head to the fields, fields where shepherds lived, to announce the good news of the birth of Christ.
What Luke doesn’t tell us is something his original audience already knew—this choice of place and people, the place where this news was delivered and to whom, was significant. At the time of Jesus, shepherding was a job no one wanted. People viewed shepherds as liars, thieves, and worse. Shepherds couldn’t testify in court proceedings, and many towns had laws in place keeping them out. Religious leaders were especially harsh in their judgment of these men since the demands of their work kept them from being able to observe the sabbath.
And it was to these men that God sent angels to announce the coming of a savior.
The Christ-child came to dwell among us, not in the comfort of a steady home but in the cold and dirt of a manger to an unstable couple in a strange land. His birth was scandalous, born to a virgin and her unwed spouse. He wasn’t born into royalty or stability, but into poverty and a world of unanswered questions. It was here that our God chose to come, chose to dwell among us. God came to bring light to the darkness, to prove once and for all that the least shall be first and the first, last.
We have all but forgotten these realities, or perhaps have never even considered them at all. And yet I believe it is there—in the field with the shepherds, in the damp and stinky manger, in the refugee family on the run—in the messiness of it all, that we actually find God. Because it is there where God shows up.
Which is truly good news—for us, and for the messy world in which we live. Many of us and those around us can relate to those shepherds. Their experience is shared human experience, of being bullied and shunned and in grief. Those men stood in the fields dejected, wondering if God even existed. They were men who had given up on God. And God showed up, sending messengers to tell them that the world was about to and already had changed.
Today, people throughout the world are waiting in eager anticipation for good news of great joy. And the waiting is over. Our celebration of this Christmas feast brings tremendous responsibility for those of us who call ourselves Christian. None of us are angels of course, but we are still being sent out from the comfort of this sanctuary to share the good news. God shows up to us, and in us, as we are called to bring the light of Christ, lit in our hearts at Christmas, to the world.
Merry Christmas to you and all those you hold close. And may the New Year bring good things for all of us.