Wednesday, December 22, 2021
Katie Snipes Lancaster
Luke 2:8–12 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Reflection on the Nativity
Christmas draws near. The treasuring of this story feels that much more dynamic in these days on the cusp of Christmas Eve than it does, say, in mid-June when the sun sets at 10 p.m. and at 90 degrees, the gardens fill up with green growing things. I can’t help but marry the trappings of midwestern winter with my experience of these words: luminaries, candlelight, caroling, winter coats, snowfall. But as Bill Everstberg pointed out in his sermon last week, it’s 48 degrees in Bethlehem this time of year, and rarely snows, and anyway, shepherds weren’t out in their flock mid-December, they were pasturing their sheep elsewhere this time of year, so the birth of Christ was maybe more likely mid-April. I can’t quite divorce my experience of this story from the text itself. I find it hard to imagine it any other way. I guess it’s a reminder that we all live within our own story, within our own lived experience, and so at Christmastide, we bring with us a heap of memories and sacred encounters when we open the text to remember the mystery that is narrated in Luke’s Gospel.
The shepherds in their field seem to me to be the apex of the story. It is the moment when the story moves from private to public, where God’s story is not just personally earth-shattering for Mary but becomes life changing for the stranger out beyond view. Here the angels who visit the shepherds have their characteristic line: Do not be afraid. Now that we’ve heard them say “do not be afraid” to so many others, we are not surprised. God’s news can be startling. God’s news can knock us off our feet. God’s news can increase our pulse, can petrify even the most tough-guy shepherds who spend their nights protecting sheep from wolves, bandits and other things that go bump in the night.
God’s messengers also don’t wait, don’t delay, don’t participate in any small talk before getting down to business. They make their report, lay it all out on the table, and then await a response. They do not shy away from the truth. They do not sugar coat. They simply say what they have come to say. It is not mysterious. It is tangible. Go. See. A child is born. There in the manger. Find out for yourself. Peer in and see. This is the beginning of the good news. It will bring joy for all, not just for some. All are welcome. You and the many others who will soon find their way on stage.
How now do we pray? With the shepherds, we hear the words “do not be afraid” and we take a deep breath and pause and remember that even in the midst of the hardest hard days, there is a way through, with the divine ever-near. The impossible and unexpected can initially cause panic, but deep within is a well of gentleness, a pool of compassion, where God’s incarnate nearness can be made known. With the angels, we find courage to face the truth and take action. We can see for ourselves the ways in which something new is emerging. Something new, not just for some, but for all. Is it deep forgiveness? Is it renewal? Is it rest? Is it peace? Is it quiet? Is it community? What is the something new that is needed in your neck of the woods?
Praying the Nativity
God of the manger,
deep in the night
open our ears
let your light shine
so that we might
see and hear that something new is afoot
that your good news is there
in the world.
Be with us as we pray.