Christmas is a twelve day feast and the last day is 5th January. But by about the 2nd January the spell is broken and most of us have a strong desire to take down the decorations and move on. Through the Christmas period I was either hosting visitors, or away being hosted, or nursing a sick child so I didn’t publish a blog. I did write this on Christmas Eve and I feel that as it is still technically Christmas, I can get away with sharing it now.
I learned recently that at the time of Jesus’ birth the shepherds were considered to be quite a low class of society. They were outside the town most of the time and were physically tough and lived fairly rough. It’s important to be able to camp out and fight off wild animals when you are a shepherd in Judea. Respectable townsfolk would not see shepherds very often. They can’t desert their sheep without leaving them in danger. Yet God sent the Angels to invite them to celebrate the birth of Jesus, and to meet him. God has always had a bit of a soft spot for shepherds. King David’s first job was to be a shepherd, and Jesus helped his disciples to understand by describing himself as the good shepherd. God also loves a bit of reverse logic. He loves to raise up the lowly.
If Jesus was born today I can’t help thinking that the Angels would appear to warehouse staff in Sports Direct and UPS delivery drivers (other delivery services are available). It’s pretty clear from recent media coverage that someone somewhere considers these people to be “lowly”. The Sports Direct workers would likely get in trouble for taking unscheduled breaks, just like the shepherds abandoning their sheep. We’ve all heard tales about the pay and conditions. The delivery drivers annoy us by perhaps bashing our parcels or not actually ringing the bell. And yet we are grateful for their work. These are the people who spring to my mind. Who do you think of?
In Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph are many months further on from their respective Angel visits. The Angel told them that they would be parents to God’s son. They believed what they were told. However life has been plodding on for months since then in its mundane way. I’m sure they are sustained greatly in their faith, but even annunciated parents can feel knocked. They live on earth and as we know, that grates on your faith a bit. At this point they must be feeling a bit less supported by God than they expected. If this is his son, why hasn’t he reserved them a nice hotel room? Are things going wrong? Did they make a mistake with their travel arrangements and not follow His plan? I expect they were questioning themselves a lot.
I’m guessing here but I don’t hold with the view that God was floating them along on some heavenly, cosseting cloud in their life on Earth at this time. That idea doesn’t fit with the way He does things throughout the rest of the Bible. He sent his son to earth as a baby to have a fully human experience, and that includes being parented by people who are coping with life’s stresses. Even so, a stable is clearly an unexpected come-down for Mary and Joseph. On the flip side, He’s got this. Things appear a bit impoverished but in fact they lack nothing.
Has God Remembered?
Mary has the baby Jesus, lays him in an animal feeding trough (honestly, she’s scrubbed it with a whole bottle of Flash and lined it with every tea towel should could lay her hands on). These are not the best arrangements for a new baby. Mary’s just done childbirth (always undignified) and now she is getting used to sleep deprivation. She’s living in her pyjamas and doesn’t get to drink more than two mouthfuls of her cup of tea before it goes cold.
The new parents must be wondering whether God has remembered the glory he promised for their child. How does God affirm them? A crowd of burly warehouse staff and unwashed Amazon delivery drivers knock at the door. How VERY alarming. (You get the idea).
The Shepherds have seen Angels and they must have been glowing. Joseph lets them in (was there even a door?) and then to Mary’s astonished delight they tell her about the Angels and her worship her son. This reassures her; it’s true! And how astonishing that God would celebrate first with the shepherds. Mary knew that she was quite lowly when God chose her for this job, she must have marvelled at How God raised up the Shepherds.
God used Shepherds – of all people – to encourage these special new parents. It’s a reminder that we should look at people without pre-judgment, and a person’s job doesn’t define them.
I got very cross and grumpy with a UPS delivery driver this week. I feel a bit bad and I wish he could read this. But does anyone know where I can get a label saying “please use the bell”?
This part of the Nativity Bible story can be found here, Luke 2 v 8-20