Every day in Advent 2016 we will be sharing short reflections from authors, Christian charities and Eden team members.
Who’s your favourite character in the Nativity story? If you got picked when you were a child, what part did you play? Innkeeper? Donkey – front or rear? I still remember the delight of being chosen to be a shepherd. Mum was pleased too because it was just a dressing gown and tea towel transformation.
That was a long time ago, but while even now no school nativity play would be complete without the Shepherds, it’s actually amazing they were there and even more so that they were there first (before the VIPs)!
If you did a documentary of ‘Israel’s Dirtiest Jobs’ back then, Shepherding would have been the original. These guys spent most of the time completely alone trying to stay awake by not counting sheep.
They were nomadic, moving from place to place, never owning much, never really having a place to call home. They lived apart from normal society and excluded from worship at the Temple, though some scholars have speculated that the sheep in Bethlehem would be specially reared for sacrifice there. Imagine how poignant it is then that angels came to point them to the one who was later called ‘The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.’
They were despised, seen as untrustworthy, they couldn’t be witnesses in court. Yet heaven’s plan was to make them the first witnesses of the most important event in history. They were always on duty, their job was 24/7 protection of the sheep from rustlers and predators. They faced danger at every turn. Poorly paid, under appreciated.
Imagine if Christ’s birth happened today… and the golden ticket goes to the unlikeliest outcast people, those with the dirtiest, least glamorous, most undesirable jobs in our society. Who would that be? The people who live on the fringes, disconnected, most often alone. Who would that be?
I don’t know who you’d say that is now, but Christmas tells us God sends an invitation to the isolated, lonely ones. His first invitation is to those who never get invited, to join together with a whole choir of angels and join in worshipping too.
"An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.” (Luke 2:9-14)
Christianity is still good news! When you realise who Jesus is, and that God loved the world so much he sent His Son to save us, it still leads to great joy! For who? For you. You just got picked to be in the Christmas story, too. No tea towel required. This is a personal invitation with your name on it to journey from isolation to community, from loneliness to a welcome in the presence of Jesus.
The shepherds didn’t want to miss it. They left everything behind, work, tasks and responsibilities. They set everything aside - to pursue Jesus. They dropped everything in their normal lives and made time and space to go and see for themselves. but then they didn’t keep it to themselves because good news is for sharing.
Nobody has to miss Christmas. I’m like you - at Christmas more than ever we all feel the weight of responsibility and demands on our time and the pressure of tasks that need to be done, especially in a season like this. It can feel wrong to step away from all those demands. But the shepherds took a step away from the everyday, a step of faith, and experienced something that took their breath away, just like the angels promised! They didn’t stay by themselves, they went together and saw for themselves, but they didn’t keep it to themselves. That’s how you can have the best Christmas ever.
Anthony Delaney leads the Ivy Church Network. He blogs at anthonydelaney.com His books include Rough Diamonds, which would be a great Christmas present for the man who has everything, the man in your life, or the man you want to be!
December 13th, 2016 - Posted & Written by The Editor