Saturday, December 22, 2012

December 22, 2012

Today's text

Now it happened that when the angels had gone from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us go to Bethlehem and see this event which the Lord has made known to us.' So they hurried away and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger (Luke 2:15-16).


For years, I have prayed this story in my imagination, and each time I see a dumbstruck shepherd holding the infant Jesus.

But the story starts elsewhere. It begins with feet stumbling over rough ground. A handful of shepherds rush to see what is happening, thankful that something--they know not what--has interrupted the boredom of another long night among dumb sheep.

Coming to a stable, they stand mute at the opening, not ready to enter.

A small fire illumines the dark interior. A cow and three or four sheep lay in an enclosure to the right. A man on one knee looks down at an exhausted woman, turning his head as they approach.

He gestures, and they hesitantly enter, unsure if they should intrude. But they are not intrusion. They are the reason this whole thing is happening.

Coming close, they stand wide-eyed before a mother and infant child, nestled close amid the cold. The oldest of them steps closer to see the beauty of new life in Mary’s arms.

This is not strange to them. The shepherds know birth. They have helped ewes give birth and held their fragile young in calloused hands. They know what to do.

Mary looks at her child and into the eyes of the old shepherd and slightly lifts her bundle, a gesture he understands. She lays her child in his arms.

He says nothing but looks at the child, holding the blessing of midnight he will never understand. He understands only that it’s a night like no other he has seen: angels in the starlight, songs in the night, a child in his arms, his old eyes beholding the life he tenderly holds.

What he cannot understand is that the life he holds in worn hands is the life who holds him. He holds heart of God beating in the heart of a tender child. Looking into Jesus infant face, he cannot know that he gazes into the mystery of Love Unbounded.

Theologians of every age have sought to answer the question of why the Inexpressible God became mortal flesh. Some read the Scriptures and conclude the primary purpose of the incarnation was to atone for sin and forgive human guilt.

Others say, “no,” the incarnation did not take place because of human sin. God always planned to appear in mortal flesh, taking all that we are into himself, holding it close and loving it all, just like the old shepherd cradling Mary’s child.

Christmas Eve will soon be upon us, and once again we are the shepherds, beckoned to hold the child who holds us all.  

For prayer and reflection

  • What did you see, feel, hear and notice as you imagine the scene of the shepherds coming to the manger?
  • What message comes to you as you see the shepherd holding the child? Can you put yourself in the scene, holding Jesus?
  • How do each of us complete creation, allowing God to be incarnate in our flesh?

Another voice

Jesus, Lord of all creation, sleep now close beside your mother, Mary. Bring us light amid the darkness, promise of life without end. For a child is born, the world rejoices! Shepherds and angels proclaim his birth. This is Jesus the Lord, our Savior and brother, bearing  God’s peace to the earth.
(“Nativity Carol,” Francis Patrick O’Brien, 1992)

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