(Part one of an Advent series called Nativity Snapshots)
Christmas photos are timeless: loved ones surrounded by decorations, food, unwrapped gifts. But look past the abundant smiles and remember the circumstances. Can you recall both the joys and heartaches your family experienced that year? Can you savor how important it was to support each other through every trial of life? Pictures indeed speak a thousand words.
For the next few weeks, we will look at Nativity snapshots from scripture. No matter how you view the Bible – literally or symbolically – these images reveal the deeper meanings of Jesus’ birth, truths to prepare the mangers of our hearts for Christmas 2014.
Today we remember those shepherds tending their flocks in the hills above Bethlehem, recorded in Luke chapter 2.
Imagine this distant night. Jesus was born in spring, not winter, so it is likely mild and clear, the sky flooded with starlight. A smell of meadow grass hangs heavy in the air. Crickets trill, interrupted by the occasional bleat of a restless lamb.
Suddenly a shaft of light pierces the night. An angel appears to announce the advent of the Messiah, flanked by a heavenly choir. The terrified shepherds fall to their knees in reverence, then joyfully run to Bethlehem to see a Savior born in a feeding trough.
Now freeze the frame. Take it off the Christmas card. Peer beyond its familiarity and hear these words from I Corinthians: “Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of ‘the brightest and the best’ among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families.” (Message version)
Orthodox folks of the first century looked down on shepherds. Never mind that King David was a herder in his youth. Forget Psalm 23’s delight in God as our heavenly pastor. Shepherds were considered smelly and unclean, unable to follow proper rituals for cleanliness.
Yet where does God announce the Savior’s birth? Not at the temple in Jerusalem or the Roman courts of Caesar. Not at the lighthouse in Alexandria or the Parthenon in Greece. Nope, the words ring out on a lonely hillside to a group of scruffy laborers.
Are you on the Fortune 500 list? Does your name rise to the top of Google searches? Do you have political notoriety? Does your title scroll by on movie credits? When was the last time you got an invitation to the White House? Is Mensa clamoring for your membership?
God bypassed the rich and famous to announce this birth that changed history. And God still chooses you and me, my friends, to reveal this miracle every day. No matter our status in the world’s eyes, God values us this much! God has entrusted us with a timeless gift of love.
This Christmas, how will we respond? Let’s take our cue from those shepherds. After kneeling before the manger, Luke says they “Spread the word…praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.”
In the depth of our compassion, the generosity of our time, the sincerity of our forgiveness, and the joy of our identity in God’s eyes, let’s shout out the Good News this Christmas!