I offer this brief series for anyone who would like to have some material for their prayer or reflection on the meaning of Jesus Christ over the Christmas season. This meditation on the story of the shepherds appeared in the Baptist Times recently. I have added some questions and back-up material.
Let us imagine that two shepherds who had gone to Bethlehem to see the child in the manger and wake up the next morning. We listen to their conversation …
I told you to let me sleep. All that running across the hills isn’t good for me at my age.
Well I don’t know how you could sleep after what we had seen. Angels. Mysterious voices. A baby in a manger. It was wonderful.
I know, pass the water I’m as dry as dry. So what? What does it all mean? It’s a miracle to me that the sheep are still here. They could have been half way to Jerusalem with all that noise and fuss. I expect we’ll have some still-borns later this season.
We’ll deal with that when it happens. You’re right though, what now?
We could ask the Rabbi.
Him! He would take so long to work it out the Messiah would be with us. In any case that’s what it all meant. The time of waiting is over; the exile is finishing. The Land is going to be ours again. No more working for others. No more stewards lining their pockets whilst the bosses are all down at the coast with the Romans. People didn’t need convincing last night. Once we told them what the angel said the party started.
Yes, but that was last night. You know what people are like. Last night’s party is today’s hangover. Can we really believe it all? After all it’s only a baby.
The conversation is interrupted by a surge of movement among the flock. The sheep had been made nervous by yet more travellers tramping by on their way to Bethlehem. The Roman census had changed everything. Quiet pastures were now home for anyone who couldn’t stay with relatives in the town.
The two shepherds watch their flocks. They aren’t comfortable with so many strangers near at hand.
But it’s not just the safety of their flocks that concerns them.
People on the move! I don’t like it. It’s just the Romans exercising their muscle. They are just telling us who is in charge. It’s been like it for centuries. We’re always being moved on. That’s what I think when the rabbi tells the story of the Exodus; never settled, always hoping for something better.
Well, maybe it’s different this time. Maybe that’s what the song of the heavenly sky-larks really meant. No more wandering. No more bowing to earthly powers. The day is nearly here when everyone will know the Lord is King!
Well you think on. I’ve got a flock to manage and they take up all my time.
Suggestions for consideration and reflection
* It is often pointed out that shepherds were not regarded as law-abiding or devout at the time of this story. God speaking to and through unauthorised and morally ambiguous people is an introduction to one of the important themes of Luke’s gospel. Jesus often kept their company and they are often the main characters in his parables e.g. the story of the two sons (Luke 15). I wonder where we might notice this happening today.
* This account like others in the Nativity stories is full of allusions to the Old Testament. So the angelic choir’s anthem refers back to the exile of the Israelite tribes. Thus creating a link from the perennial wanderings of God’s people to the contemporary movement of people due to the census. God’s child is placed amongst such people. What might be the point that Luke is making?
Consider Benjamin Cuyp’s Adoration of the Shepherds.
- What do you notice about the shepherds?
- The heavenly light seems to fall on them more than the child – what might be Cuyp’s reason for this?
Suggestions for prayers of thanksgiving and concern
- Gratitude for daily work and daily food
- Gratitude for prophets who state the uncomfortable truth
- Concern for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers
- People whose work means that they are isolated and overlooked.
- People who have to work out their faith outside the confines of the Church
Photo: The Adoration of the Shepherds, Benjamin Cuyp, 1612-5