Sunday, December 22, 2013
The Bible is filled with stories of transcendent moments where heavenly glory breaks in upon the earthly domain. Moses and Mt. Sinai certainly is one such moment. Isaiah's vision in the Temple is still another. Peter, James, and John had one on the Mt. of Transfiguration. But, to remember such Biblical stories without remembering those shepherds who were watching their flocks by night out there on the edge of Bethlehem is to miss one of the more exciting ones described in the New Testament. It is amazing to think about. Shepherds were not exactly on top of the social totem pole. Hanging around sheep all the time gave them a certain odor which sophisticated city dwellers found quite offensive.
However, on the night Jesus was born, all of heaven was focused on that lonely place where only shepherds walked. It starts out with a single angel and ends up with a host of them singing praise to God. The one unsurprising element of the story is the terror of those shepherds. When all the heavenly fireworks started, they were probably trying to dig a whole in the earth to hide! And, when all the singing and praising angels had gone, imagine the silence that must have filled the night as those watchers of sheep pulled themselves back into what they knew as reality. When one of them finally dared to break the silence with words, it was, "Bethlehem. Let's go to Bethlehem." And as the scripture says, they went with haste. They went in hurry.
They saw Mary and Joseph. They saw the child. They told those wide-eyed parents how it was that they came to that place. And when they left, the Word says, "The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them." (Luke 2:20) No surprise with that response. What else is there to do when God in all His glory breaks in upon our mortal human existence with His presence? What we know from remembering those moments is that there is nothing else to do!