Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas with the Shepherds

I was challenged this morning to read the Christmas story in Luke 2 and try to envision myself in the midst of the scenes. My eyes were drawn to verse 18 where it says, "and ALL who heard it were astounded and marveled..." (emphasis mine). It wasn't just the sentimental or the uneducated that marveled. ALL who heard marveled! O Lord, how many times have I read the account of the birth of the King of kings and swallowed the familiar without being astounded? How often have I not marveled? I asked the LORD to allow me to join their ranks and truly see the Christ Child. I was not disappointed...

As I read the first four verses, I couldn't help but wonder if the country was ablaze with discontent and complaining as people were inconvenienced by long journeys - often on foot - to register in their hometowns. Were the rumblings all of raised taxes? Or was there an underlying excitement of reunions with family and friends? Was Joseph stressed out? Did the details of travelling with his young, very pregnant wife leave him feeling frazzled? Did he wonder if he could do this thing that the LORD had called him to do - parent the Son of God?

And what about Mary? I remember making sure that the nursery was just so for the birth of my children. The curtains matched the bedskirt. Every inch sparkled and I was well prepared and well stocked - the product of many hours of prenatal classes and help from my mom. Was Mary disappointed with the filthy surroundings where she would have to give birth? Was she disheartened with the bed in which she lay the Son of the Most High? Or was she so enraptured with the tiny face that held the Promise of all generations that she was oblivious to all but her Messiah?

What about the words "the days were accomplished" that she should deliver? Don't you just rejoice in the reminder that God is accomplishing your days?

And shepherds... Praise the Lord for shepherds! Our nativity scenes depict them so calm, well-mannered and serene. I had forgotten that they were the ruffians of society. Shepherds were rowdy, uncivilized men of despicable character! They weren't even allowed to testify in court! Their language was course and vulgar. They were feared by those around them but they feared no one. They fought off wild animals who would prey on their sheep! But tonight, these men were terrified! A single angel - accompanied by the glory of the Lord - made these men tremble with terrible fright! And no doubt... the glory of the Lord revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai caused his human face to glow so bright that he had to veil it from the Israelites so that they could approach him unafraid! And oh the message the angel brought... What glad tidings of great joy - and to ALL people - even shepherds like them! Despite their tough exterior, these men shared our legitimate need to be accepted.

Can you imagine, after all that, to suddenly have a heavenly host appear? Now I'm not sure what a heavenly host looks like but the Amplified translation calls it "an army of the troops of heaven" and a "heavenly knighthood"! How much more could these men take? I like to think that God was putting the exclamation mark in history as His angels were heralding the coming of the One who alone could bring peace to all men. I marveled (praise the Lord, I marveled) that it doesn't say the angels disappeared as suddenly as they came! Instead, it says that the angels went away from them into heaven. I can almost picture the shepherds watching the heavenly multitude gloriously rise high overhead and slowly fade into the recesses of heaven as their song echoed in the night. Shepherds such as these had never known peace among men in their life! I bet they "made haste" to find the Christ Child!

Don't you just chuckle at the scene on the streets of Bethlehem? What a spectacle the shepherds must have made searching. I likened it to a gang of modern day misfits, you know the kind you avoid at all costs, frantically moving up and down the streets of my quiet neighborhood bubbling over with animated talk of angels and peace as they searched for a baby of all things! I wonder how many people talked to a shepherd for the first time that night. Oh the grace of God who was making it so clear that His loving-kindness was extended to ALL of us, no matter our background, vocation and rough edges! And they found the Child "just as it had been told them." How profound! If the Deliverer was found just as they had been told, they could trust the message of deliverance was just as true to the angels' words! Even peace and salvation and acceptance to shepherds!

My edges have been a little "rough" too lately. That's really an understatement! In the hustle and bustle, planning and preparing, those closest to me have heard such grumbling and complaining! But like those shepherds, the LORD took me to the manger!! And just like them, I too returned glorifying and praising God for all the things I heard and saw!

This morning, I sat down to READ the story of Christ's birth. Instead, my Faithful Heavenly Father told me History, "His" story! May Christmas never be the same again!

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