That night the shepherds were wistful.
Under the night sky, the shepherds lay beside their flock of sheep. On the cooler nights, they kept warm this way, nestled among the sheep, the bleating hushed. Sheep know the voice of a good shepherd - who lays down beside them. A welcomed calm blanketed them. The dark sky had this way of inviting them into the mystery of what is and what will be.
Overlooking the city of Bethlehem a peaceful stillness dwelled among them, full of grace and truth. It stirred within that night, as the shepherd cradled the complexities of life.
For a moment, the unrest of the city seemed a world away. The unrelenting reminders of the cruel, harsh, and oppressive ways faded for a moment.
Some might say, those shepherd on the hillside were out of touch with the lives of others, spending so much time with the sheep. But those shepherds knew the challenges of what it meant to keep their flock safe, fed and together….
Over the years, they’d known the heartbreak of disease and loss, and of deeply missing loved ones. The shepherds new what it was like to give of themselves in service of another. Protecting and guiding their flock.
As they settled into the evening, the dark of the night sky reminded the shepherds, that the darkness was not bad. The darkness was the place where you could see the tiniest flicker of light. The darkness encouraged the light to shine in all of its glory. Sometimes, the light only had to give a little to be a lot, for the darkness welcomed the light and the light welcomed the darkness. These long nights taught the shepherds that light was ubiquitous. It was everywhere.
The shepherds found light in knowing their flock. The sheep recognized their voices. Of this they were sure. The shepherds could recognize the sounds of the different sheep. This was handy in the dark. As the conversation of the shepherds began to hush, they soon realized, that they were stumbling upon what they had unknowingly been looking for. The question on their wistful hearts, What is next for us?
Suddenly, the sky began to stir, as did their hearts and minds.
The growing brightness illuminated the rocky terrain. Was it their imaginations?
No, the hillside was luminous. Before them the heavens opened, and behold before their eyes was rejoicing. An angel of the Lord appeared and the glory of the glory of the Lord shone around. And they were terrified.
“the mysterious called them forward as it does.”1
With consummate timing, the trembling was met with a message of great joy.
Do not be afraid, for see I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people. To you this day in the city of David a Saviour, a child is born, who is the Messiah the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.
Suddenly, they knew precisely what was next for them.
Into the mystery they would go. To the baby born.
Can you hear their joy?
Listen for it in the words.
"Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us."
There is old saying,
"Every child who is born is a reminder that God is not finished with the world yet.” 2
God gifts the world a child to “make the world a little less cruel and heartless.” 3 To show us how to care for the sick and the suffering, the poor and marginalized among us, like the shepherds did with their sheep. To be the love that is born among us. The love that connects. The love that builds bonds of peace and grows community.
At the beginning of that evening their wistful hearts could not comprehend how to impact life for the better in the often harsh and unjust world they lived. The new in their own small shepherd like way, they did this with their flock. It’s maybe of no surprise then that they were the first guest of the Christ child. The place where God chose to born.
In the mess of a manger. To an unwed teenage mother. To parents who would toil by day and night in poverty. And shortly after the baby was born, the family would flee from danger, as refugees in an unknown land.
Like the shepherds, the parents would come to know that that darkness and light are good friends. It taught them that light was ubiquitous. It was everywhere.
During these pandemic times, we might ask a similar questions. What is next for us?
We’ve turned - pivoted - adapted - made due - cancelled, rescheduled, worried, made the best of a challenging situation- grown tired - as we live during this tumultuous time. We hunker down on the hillside with the shepherds, with the news of the city. Sometimes we may feel out of touch, far removed but hope does not disappoint. For we know the promises of a God who is with us.
At this time of year, my family goes on drives and walks to see the Christmas lights in the neighbourhood. In a subdivision nearby, one street in particular has over 30 houses with inflatable snowmen. You turn a corner and a cul-de-sac has about 15 giant Santas on their lawns. When driving down these streets you are lifted by the sense of community. One by one, each house joined another in communicating a message of togetherness and solidarity.
This type of thing happens all over.
You may have heard the recent story about a street in Maryland. As sign of support, one neighbour strung Christmas lights to their neighbours house across the street.
Like many others, the neighbour across the street was experiencing depression, anxiety with the pandemic upheaval and grief over the loss of a loved one. The pandemic had been especially difficult.
One day, the neighbour sent her a message, telling her to go look outside. She saw this string of lights connecting their homes. He told her, the lights are meant to reinforce that they were always connected despite their pandemic isolation.
The idea caught on. (Likely, much like streets near me). Other neighbours on the street started connecting their houses with strings of light. They described it as organic. There was no planning. It just happened. Growing out of everybody’s desire for beauty and joy and connection. 3
While man who started this was the first to offer support, he came to realize that he also needed support needed support and connection during this difficult pandemic time, doesn’t everyone?
One message we can take from this story is that supportive community grows out of humanity’s need for beauty and joy and connection.
And the Christmas narrative of God coming to earth, born to a world in need;
sings to us of how beauty is found in that which not considered beautiful, how joy has this capacity to emerge out of the most unlikely places, and that the mysterious invites and the light illumines our connection with God and with each other.
Tonight we light our own handheld candles. Offering a moment of beauty, joy and connection.
Like the angels, star or the street, these lights although separate connect us in a way…with God and each other.
Like the shepherds, we ponder with hope: What’s next for us?
Let us go now and see.
- Read somewhere in my preparation.
2. Curry, Michael. Christmas Message. https://churchanew.org/blog/posts/bishop-michael-curry-christmas-message-2021
3. Adapted from a quote about gentle parenting by L.R. Knost
4. Page, Sydney. A Man Strung Lights. Washington Post. 2021