CHAPTER SIX—Christmas Day
The process of spiritual seeking always has two parties in play: the Creator and creation and starts with a breaking ground process. Sometimes the people that do the seeking are very intentional when a seeming lightning in a bottle happens and sometimes it comes out of nowhere in the Creator doing the initiative.
Such is the case of the shepherds that we sing about every Christmas. Though the breaking of ground happens in a miracle for the shepherds, we can learn a larger lesson of God breaking ground in our lives.
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them (Luke 2:8-20).
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields— In our modern western culture we miss the importance in this narrative that these men were in the lowest distinction of occupations in society. At least a lowly carpenter could be preferred for a draft and be a witness in court. Shepherds were not considered to have a transferable skill set and were not considered to have enough nobility to testify. A PR expert would say that they should not be on point with the revelation of Jesus. But it was the will of God that this new kingdom have a true value of being “of the poor and for the poor” ( Pope Francis).
“At that very moment he rejoiced [in] the holy Spirit and said, ‘I give you praise, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for although you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned you have revealed them to the childlike.[Yes, Father, such has been your gracious will’“ (Luke 10:21).
A last piece of note is the liturgical significance of what these shepherds did and where. The lambs that were in charge of, specifically in Bethlehem, were the favorites for temple sacrifice. Put that together with the fact that Bethlehem means “house of bread”, Jesus is born there, he is called later the “Lamb of God” and the artistry of God here is rich. Jesus is the Lamb of God,the Bread of Life and born in the “house of bread”.
good news of great joy that will be for all the people…and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests—- This is rich because the message of Jesus that would be expressed when the Church is actualized is for all people. There are no white or black, rich or poor but an equal opportunity for all who want God’s favor.
For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord—- though Luke’s gospel is not known to have as many Jewish traits as the others proportionally, he mentions this because with Jesus being born in the city of David there is a continuity of God’s long-term plan. What forms of salvation started in Israel does not lose in its universality nor holistic nature. It is also worth noting that one cannot take Jesus as Savior alone. Jesus must be known as king or we miss the fulness of salvation.
… a sign for you… an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger—- Theologians refer to the Infancy Narratives as the protoevangelium which is to say that it is primitive portion of the gospel (euangeleon) that points in principles to the whole of the gospel narratives. The description they are to look for is not aesthetically pleasing for someone looking for the king with sparkle. Neither do shepherds have sparkle. And neither are any of us when we remove the veneer of our self-righteousness and worldly pride. When God does here as part of the gospel story is showing an appearance of “foolishness that confounds the wise” with the height of this when this baby dies on a cross as a man.
And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God— The simplicity of understanding how to discern Jesus correctly is our best preparation for heaven to touch down on earth where the Church on earth is manifest. That is what the combination of angels and shepherds are as a divinely appointed assembly. These shepherds in being called out by the angels to gather to Jesus could qualify as a divine qahal, or assembly, in the Jewish understanding. From a completed New Testament understanding on being called out to God’s purposes they were doing Church in a heavenly and earthly context. One could say that heaven and earth meet in the context of worship where the spiritual and the natural flow side by side. Angels are manifest for this point to be made. The writer of Hebrews makes such a point later in the 1st century how the presence of angels is typical for the kingdom of God in Christ. “No, you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering” (Hebrews 12:22).
So if one is to receive a message of God’s universal and practical plan of grace for mankind and are mindful of God’s kingdom come to earth, what is the proper response? “So they went in haste” is here the definition of a rightly ordered knee-jerk reaction.
And what should we discern or find when we get in haste to what God has called us too? “[A]nd found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger” means to find Jesus is to find him in the context of fellowship or family. What should that fellowship be for the shepherds to encounter? They were found in a manger likely built in a cave since they were marginalized and there was no room for them in the inn.
And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart— So for those that hear God’s call to come, come and stay with a reflective heart on the mysteries of Jesus. Mary is in the narrative as an example of experiencing the grace of God’s kingdom, which she was “full of” according to Gabriel. It is a blessing to a point to be caught up, enraptured, in spiritual experience. Yet that experience should give way to the side of contemplating or internalizing as we consecrate ourselves in whatever station of life we are called to.
My prayer for you and I dear reader is that we do not let distractions keep us from meditating quietly of the nature of Jesus and relationship to him. Within a fullness of grace and truth that is in Jesus there is nothing left to stop us— but us.