Word for the Week
Short reflections on Bible passages, with a frontline focus...
And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 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.’
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’
Apart from Jesus (naturally), the shepherds are my favourite characters in the entire Bible.
And no, not just because I always seemed to be cast as one of them in school nativities (was it too much to ask to be Mary, just one time?!)
It’s because they show us so much about who God is and how he does things.
Let’s take a quick stroll down 1st-Century Lane for a moment…
Although many of the Jewish patriarchs were shepherds, and God is even likened to a shepherd from time to time, it has been regularly noted that shepherds around the time of Jesus’ birth were truly on the margins of society. It’s been suggested that they were often away from society for long stretches of time tending to sheep that were almost certainly not owned by them. If this was the case, it was one of the lowest-paid professions with some of the most undesirable social connotations.
And, it seems, that made them the perfect audience.
God sent history’s most extravagant light show to the people the world ignored. He wanted the particularly marginalised, the continually overlooked, the chronically underestimated to be the first people to hear what had happened.
The shepherds remind me that because of Christmas, and the God who thought it up, the notion that someone can be ‘unseen’ is a total myth.
Their night shift changed history, and they wanted people to know it. We’re told that they ‘spread the word concerning what had been told to them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them’ (Luke 2:17–18).
Not that I’ve been here a huge amount of time, but I’m not sure I’ve ever known a world that needs to know what the shepherds saw that night, and what it means, more than ours right now. There are people in your office, in your classroom, stepping foot into your coffee shop, hopping onto your bus, who need Christmas. And maybe, just maybe, that’s why they’ve found themselves there.
Christmas happened, and it’s still happening. It changed lives, and it’s still changing lives. He came, and he’s still here.
Why don’t we find a way to tell someone so? To introduce them to their God-With-Them? To show them that the gritty wonder of the Christmas story is everything they need to hear?
Belle works as a reporter at the Centre for Cultural Witness
Who would be the equivalent of the ‘shepherds’ in our society today? Which people groups tend to be ignored, overlooked, marginalised? How can we make sure that they have a front row seat to the real wonder of Christmas? Join the conversation in the comments below.
Word for the Week and Connecting with Culture are taking a Christmas break next week – back as usual on 30 December and 2 January!