Coming to see
At this time of year I find myself thinking about the Christmas story quite a bit. As always I try to visualize myself there. The past few days I have been thinking about those shepherds; in particular their desire to see the infant Christ. In my mind’s eye I can see them excitedly reaching the manger, looking down and seeing…what?
Just a baby. I think we can all agree that there was no halo or anything that distinguished Jesus from any other baby. You and I know that when any mom shows you their new baby it is obligatory to make “adorable baby” comments. Scripture doesn’t say that the shepherds did that but it doesn’t say they didn’t either so I am going to assume that the “adorable baby” protocol goes back across history and cultures and that they did.
But I can’t help but wonder if they were a tad disappointed, or at least confused, about what they saw in the manger. Luke tells us they were” glorifying and praising God” so we know they were excited but were they confused about the contrast between a host of angels in the sky and an ordinary looking baby in the manger?
The Jews at that time were expecting, or at least longing for, the Messiah. Frankly however, the whole born-in-a-manger, announcement-to-the-shepherds thing was going to make it harder for the Jews to believe, not easier. John 7:27 makes it clear that because “we know where this man is from” is sort of a deal-breaker for them on Jesus being the Messiah.
Ok, so the shepherds saw and then did their glorifying and praising but the net effect in terms of lasting impact seems to be close to zero. When Jesus started His ministry 30+ years later there was no group of shepherd-inspired disciples around waiting for Him. So what was the point of the massive angelic effort to get a group of the least-of-the-least to come and look at the baby?
I had been pondering this for days when I saw a blog post by Joy Bennett. It was one of those electrifying moments when someone says or writes an answer to a question you already had in your head. I’ve been following Joy’s writing for some time now and you can see more of her stuff at www.joyinthisjourney.com. Here is what she said:
“In the Incarnation, God immersed Godself into time and space, and into a physical body. I have often wondered why Jesus was conceived and gestated and delivered as an infant into the arms of two very human parents instead of just appearing in a human form as an adult. I believe that being born was God’s way of meeting us where we are at, of coming to us in a way that we can understand.”
Yep. And the shepherds? Why were they given the birth announcement? I tend to think that they, the most outside of outsiders, were summoned to make it clear that this whole thing was not about gathering a select group of insiders to share in something for the chosen few. The divine became human and we are all welcome to come and see.
The angels have gone back to doing whatever it is that angels do. They haven’t come back to anyone’s night sky again. But they don’t need to. The shepherds actually got it right. No matter what their “results”, no matter that they never started the First Church of the Privileged Shepherds, they did what they were supposed to do. Our call is to join them in “glorifying and praising God.”