We will spend Christmas evening at my daughter’s house in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains. She lives on a farm at the end of a small valley, a hollow or “holler” as the locals call them. All around the farm on verdant hills are sheep. As I have been anticipating this trip, I have been thinking of the sheep and the shepherds from the nativity story.
The shepherds are often overlooked in the story. They are far less glamorous than the three Magi. But the shepherds are there to witness the birth of the baby Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the Light unto our world. What did it take in this story for the shepherds to leave their posts and pay tribute to this new hope being born among them? What does it take for any of us to leave our busy lives, especially now, to celebrate the birth of child and light once again? How do we leave our flock of worries; the wars, the plagues, the relationship troubles and the bills, and pay homage to the possibility of life even still?
I found this piece by my colleague Teresa Schwartz* especially moving as we come into this Holy Night tomorrow:
“We are tempted to reduce the whole of the Christmas story to a kinder, gentler God, somewhat akin to the jolly and portly fellow in the red suit; we wrap our seasonal theology neatly with a red bow. But what we have here are terrifying and fascinating dreams and apparitions. Enough to make you lay down your work and follow your vision.
“That’s what the shepherds did. They ran from that place in search of the strange, the holy. What star are we waiting for to lay down our labors and follow a vision? A strange vision? A frightening glory? Peculiar and unfamiliar fancies that we would risk losing the labors of our day to a brilliant, crazed moment in the night?
“Could we hear the bizarre voices at all? Or are we too busy tending our sheep to see the hand of God in the strange turns of our lives? The shepherds ran, ran, leaving their sheep and the one they ran to would tell the fishermen to lay down their nets, leave their fish, run, run to be fishers of men and women and dreams.
“For a moment follow the dream, the hope despite your shaking. Receive the annual invitation, face the awesome vision, lay down your labors, abandon all reason for now, once again, God is with us, and we can risk our daytime sensibilities for strange dreams and fearful fascinations. Run across the muddy, cold fields.” *
Run towards the light, my beloveds. It is waiting for you.
Merry Christmas – and Happy Hanukkah too! Rev. John