Settle in to your quiet space with several deep, slow breaths. If you can’t find quiet space amid the holiday-making, settle into the noisy, (hopefully) joyful space you’re in. Still: breathe. Light a candle, gaze at Christmas tree lights, watch a fireplace blaze (even if on tv)… it’s all good.
Breathe in: Our salvation comes
Breathe out: bringing peace on earth
- Isaiah 62:6-12 The Lord has proclaimed to the end of the earth: Say to daughter Zion, “See, your salvation comes…” (Isaiah 62:11a)
- Psalm 97 The heavens proclaim his righteousness; and all the peoples behold his glory. (Psalm 97:6)
- Titus 3:4-7 But when the goodness and lovingkindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness we had done, but according to his mercy… (Titus 3:4-5a)
- Luke 2:1-20 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. … And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:8-9, 13-14)
Link to complete readings for Christmas/Nativity Proper 2.
One of the first sermons I remember that blew my mind—and blew out of the water any notion of a stylized, manicured First Christmas—was all about the shepherds. I was a Bible-belt college student in an obligatory Baptist chapel service, sitting in a stylish, manicured worship space decorated with greenery and red velvet ribbon, and our campus minister told us all about first-century shepherds. How they were poor—they didn’t own the sheep, just watched them for somebody richer. How they were dirty and smelly and outcast from “good society” because they hung out with animals all day and night—how they were “outsiders” literally and metaphorically. How these were not the dudes you would want showing up in your dining room, much less your birthing room. (I’m paraphrasing wildly here—it has been nearly 30 years, after all—but this was the general idea.)
I’ve never read a shepherd parable, or a Good Shepherd metaphor, or the nativity story the same way since.
And I’ve read Luke’s nativity story hundreds of times. Our family’s tradition was to read Luke 2:1-20 aloud before any present could be opened; after all these years, I have it memorized (in the King James, naturally). But I never realized—until just now, when I counted—that the Main Character in most of this text is not the holy family but the shepherds. Mary and Joseph get taxed, go roadtripping, and have a baby in the span of seven verses, in a pretty boring, straightforward telling without dialogue or description.
Guess who’s the center of the next thirteen fantastic verses?
The shepherds are at work; receive a terrifying visitor, and are awestruck by an angelic carol-sing. They decide to go check things out, look for the Sign. They tell Mary and Joseph about the angels’ message, and everyone is amazed by their story (and Mary keeps pondering it)… then they go back to work, still spilling over with praise. The way Luke tells this part of Jesus’ advent, the holy family is what the story is about. But the story happens to, is experienced by and recounted by, the shepherds. And their story doesn’t end; as far as we know, two thousand years later, those guys are still glorifying, praising, and wondering at all they have seen and heard.
What if that’s so because we are the shepherds? What if their story is ours?
This Christmas, consider how you practice being a shepherd as you experience and express (tell, sing, write, paint, draw, stitch, build) the Advent—the coming—of Jesus.
How do makers and crafters practice shepherding?
- They stay awake. They’re watchful, paying attention… even (especially) to unexpected, surprising, shocking revelations.
- They’re curious. They take wonder at face-value, and then they follow where it leads. They go deep. They look for signs.
- They’re in it together. They share in their work, their inspirations and experiences, and their explorations. They share in their celebrations.
- They use whatever skills and gifts they have to keep telling the story!
More and more, I’m struck by the people who seem to be on the edges of the Bible’s stories—the people who are observing the action, following up, and then recounting what they’ve seen and heard. That’s the example of Luke’s shepherds, and in the cast of characters of the nativity, they’re the ones we are called to be. Witnesses. Curious seekers. And still, ever after, storytellers.
Take a few minutes to explore your space and select an item or two that represent “being shepherds.” Bring these items into your sacred space. Some ideas:
- Something wooly. 🙂
- A tool you use to express your faith to the people around you: a favorite pen, a sheet of music, a project on the needles, the recipe you cook for new parents or grieving families.
- Something that represents your community of faith: a church bulletin, a family Bible, a list of friends in your ongoing group chat.
- Something you’ve made, or a piece of artwork, that felt like an expression of praise… or glorifying God… or deep peace.
In the season ahead, reflect on these items and how they represent being shepherds: How are you following the shepherds’ example in your work toward the fulfillment of God’s kingdom?
Where are you feeling terrified in your faith life? How are you living outside the “acceptable” society around you; are you trying to fit in to it, or are you trying out not fitting? Who sits with you there, working alongside you, sharing in the revelations you receive? Are you ready to be surprised by God, and to take the chance of what might happen to your story if you go looking for God in unexpected places?
Maker of the Universe,
in this season of riotous choruses and painfully silent nights
—this noisy season,
this breathless season—
show me again
how You are shepherding me,
and calling me to a shepherd’s way:
to welcome awe, to go seeking, and to tell the story.
Let me not look down on anyone as being unworthy
of hearing from Your messengers.
Let me always be surprised and joyful
whenever, wherever, and to whomever
Let me welcome wonder,
even when it is terrifying.
Let me be brave enough to be curious,
to follow where wonder leads.
And let me never stop telling
—with every tool You have given me—
the wonders I have seen and heard of You.
In this season of deep unrest, O God,
teach me to find, and to proclaim,
Your deep peace—so that
with the neverending storytelling of a shepherd—
even I can join You
in making things new.