Bringing the Nativity to Life: Shepherds and the Angel Concert
From shepherds surprised by an angel concert on the night of Jesus' birth to the Gujjars, a nomadic people wandering across three nations. How do they relate?
We have a tradition in my family. On Christmas morning, before breakfast or presents, we gather around and read out the Christmas story. We start in Matthew chapter one with the foretelling of Jesus’ birth, then flick over to Luke chapter two for Mary & Joseph’s travel to Bethlehem, the birth of Jesus and the shepherds, before returning to Matthew for the Magi. I always put my hand up to read the section about the shepherds. A quiet night turned on its head.
They would have been sturdy men, these shepherds. Starting this work from a young age, some of them would have been little more than teenagers (think King David), but over the years they would have roughed it enough to toughen them up. They would have had many a cold night wrapped tightly in their robes, and seen many a bright star. Living in the fields outside of Bethlehem, they made sure that the sheep in their care weren’t carried away by thieves, lions or other hungry animals. They kept watch, lolling about, keeping themselves occupied with conversation and perhaps a game of dice. And then – ta da – an angel. And not only an angel, but the glory of the Lord shining in a way that made them terrified.
Imagine! You’re out camping, chatting under the stars and suddenly – angel, glory, brightness, so overwhelming that your breath shortens and your heart starts to race.
“Do not be afraid.” Ah, okay. Gulp. I would have had to be assured not to be afraid as well. The news is poured out, joyous news! Bethlehem, Saviour, Christ. They would have had to have been Jewish shepherds to understand the connotations of that statement, which would make sense if the sheep they were watching were ones kept for Temple sacrifice. A sign was given as to how they would find Jesus, which, of course, meant that they were soon to be on their way in the search of him.
And then more and more and more angels, so many that they are described as a “great company.” I kind of imagine Handel’s Messiah at full volume at this stage – sweet, loud, earth-shattering praise.
Verse 15 makes me chuckle. The angels have disappeared and the shepherds wake up out of this dream-like vision, and start talking to each other in what seems like measured terms. There were probably more than a few using their squeaky, high nervous voices. On shaky legs, but with a sense of anticipation that they were a part of something extraordinary, they head out to fulfil the first angel’s instructed visit.
They hurried off, it says. Did they all go? Who would have wanted to stay behind? Did they just trust that on that incredible night their sheep would be fine as they began their adventure to find the Christ?
And they found them – “Mary and Joseph and the baby, who was lying in the manger.” Can you imagine, even in your greatest most fertile of creative moments, what that would have been like?
No wonder they spread the word; the word of an angel-concert, of a sign, of a baby found. No wonder.
Thinking of these shepherds reminds me of other people living in fields, caring for flocks.
I think of the Gujjar people. An unreached people group, spread across North India, Pakistan and into Afghanistan, these pastoral nomads have no village of their own, no permanent dwelling place. They traipse behind their herds of cattle or goats or buffalo, stopping along the way to camp in fields or forest areas. Travelling from mountainous regions in the summer to flat lands in the winter, they shift and journey with the weather and needs of their herds.
This community of people has a strong sense of God as Creator. Constantly surrounded by nature, they know that everything they have is a gift from God, and without God they would have nothing. But as they stop and settle for a night or week, setting up tents or sleeping in the open, the night sky stretched above them, the stars clear overhead, do they ever ask, “Does this Creator truly love us?” As they lie on their backs, arms folded behind their heads, staring into space, do they ever wonder if there is hope for their salvation? Are they waiting for someone who cannot help but share the good news, like the shepherds of old? Are they hoping for the word to spread, for this “good news that will cause great joy for all people” to come? How long will they have to wait, these wandering people? How long until they hear of the Christ-child, born for them?
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9/12/2013 9:00:00 AM | 0 comments