Monday, December 17, 2012

December 17, 2012

Today's text

In the countryside close by there were shepherds out in the fields keeping guard over their sheep during the watches of the night. An angel of the Lord stood over them and the glory of the Lord shone round them. They were terrified (Luke 2:8-9).


There are conflicting traditions about shepherds in the biblical world. One on hand, great figures of Israel’s history were shepherds. Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Jacob were all shepherds.

Kings were called shepherds of the people, and David, Israel’s greatest king, grew up as a shepherd. Biblical prophecies of the Messiah say he will gather his sheep and feed his flock … like a shepherd.

On the other hand, shepherds were thought so destitute and unsavory they were not trusted because they stole to support themselves.

Their work could be brutal. Shepherds kept watch for predators skulking in the darkness eager to devour fresh meat, a wearisome task filled with hours of grinding boredom interrupted by tsunamis of terror.

They had no great expectations for their lives. Their hopes for fulfillment were small-- drinking with friends, convivial laughter, the comfort of a woman.

Nor did they aspire to learning or places of importance. Such hopes belonged to those more favorably born. They lived in the darkness on the edge of society, watching dumb animals, keeping beasts at bay.

But it is out there that the glory of the Lord shines in the night, and fearful shepherds hug the ground.

Their reaction is all wrong. They should have stood, arms outstretched to receive the shining light of God’s nearness. They could have shed their cloaks and basked in the warmth of the Holy Presence.

But that’s the way it is with human hearts. We flee from the things we most need, running from the love that seeks to enfold us, and few needed it more than a bunch of shepherds huddled in the darkness.

Like them, we stay busy enough with what demands our attention.  But we seldom lift our eyes to hope that our lives might be extraordinary, filled with light and love from God’s infinite store.

Such exceptional grace belongs to others, not to us. But they do belong to us. That’s the message of Christmas.

The light in the night sky, illumining the shepherds, shatters our earth-bound expectations and anticipates all  Jesus would say and do.

He is the face of the God whom no eye has seen. The warming light of his nearness shines first on the outcast, the forgotten, the despised and misunderstood, bearing good news to the poor and peace to the oppressed.

In that light, they began to see their lives are extraordinary, created for the glory of a great love they could not imagine.

In the darkness, they saw what we miss.

Questions for prayer and reflection

  • Do you identify with the shepherds in any way?
  • What keeps you from seeing and feeling your life as extraordinary, intended for God’s love and blessing?
  • Imagine the scene of the shepherds keeping watch as the glory of the Lord shines around them. What do you see, hear and feel in the scene? What is most important or powerful?

Another voice

Shepherds, in the fields abiding,watching o’er your flocks by night. God with us is now residing, yonder shines the infant light. Come and worship, come and worship, worship Christ the newborn king.
(“Angels, from the Realms of Glory,” James Montgomery, 1857)

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