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Sunday, December 4, 2011

On Being Advent's First Responders

 This blog's last entry mentioned advent traditions, complete with a photo of our family's advent wreath centerpiece.  Tonight we will light the second candle, the candle of peace; but also--in older church traditions--the candle of the shepherds.  Not all farm animals are happy to remain quietly in the barn, nor should they.  They need fresh field grass and time for frolicking. 
So the shepherds tend them.  Keep them safe from harm.  Now shepherds did not enjoy a particularly high rung on the career ladder of their day, but they were nevertheless vitally important.  To these were given the first glad tidings of the wondrous event.  Interesting.  What other laborers could say they'd been visited by a "multitude" of angels while on the job?  Certainly the priests and levites would have expected to be such recipients, but instead it was given to a band of rag-tag shepherds--and the third-shift crew at that!  Just who are these guys who get an advent candle all for themselves?

I saw a curious bit of holiday yard art yesterday:  4 shepherds as if in a Nativity display, except for the rest of the primary characters.  All others were missing.  What's more, these shepherds had their backs to the road, as if they were headed around the house, most likely to a stable back there.  

Passers-by were the least of their concerns. 

I thought this display rather curious, but then it struck me:  maybe these homeowners were being playful with their outdoor docorating:  making an advent yard show for anyone who "got" it.  They featured the shepherds because this is the week of the shepherds...in Advent celebrations.  Maybe I should look again at the story of these first responders, I thought.  When I did, it struck me:


  • "There were in the same country, shepherds..." which reminds me that Jesus claimed this "career" for himself, too.  It was "his country," too.  His mother regarded well this first of all visits: field hands lumbering--probably rough and dirty--to the manger side.  She treasured it in her heart.  Later her son would call himself a shepherd.  Surely he sat on her knee as a boy and He obviously regarded it well, too.
  • "Keeping watch over their flocks by night."  Alert. Watching over their lambs.  Jesus loved his disciples, but did he maybe ache just a bit for a few shepherds that night in Gethsemane?  Keeping the night watch.  Protecting in the dark.  It is an honorable calling, more than many know.
  • "And this shall be a sign unto you.  The babe shall be wrapped in swaddling clothing and lying in a manger."  How often are we willing to accept that the  humble, embarrassing moments of life might be the circumstances that serve as the very sign of God to another creature?  Or, who would receive such a strange and humble sign as being from God...except maybe a true shepherd?
  • They "made haste" to see him, and then boldly "made known abroad" the news, doing it well enough that others marvelled rather than ridiculed their strange story. Finally, "the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them."  As it was told unto them.  Joy at being given a wondrous but mysterious message and spreading that news well and with integrity before returning to "normal" life with no grand expectations for further elevated station.  All told, their part of the story is the essence of pure ministry.  No wonder theirs is the week to rejoice in the gifts of peace.
May we all be shepherds such as these.


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