Saturday, December 10, 2011

Journeys of Christmas 3

Third Sunday in Advent
            While “there’s no place like home for the holidays,” my Advent blogs invite you to think about the participants in the first Christmas, who were not at home. We have already visited with Gabriel, who delivered God’s messages to Zechariah and Mary, and with Mary, who left the commonplace to become the mother of the Messiah.
            Today we meet a group of shepherds. Their mileage was so low that it qualified more as a jaunt than a journey. Camped out with their flocks in the fields near Bethlehem, they reached the baby lying in a manger in record time. To appreciate their journey, consider not the geographical miles, but the spiritual miles. They trekked a short distance on foot, but a much greater distance in mind and heart, in soul and spirit.
  • The shepherds traveled from the mundane—earning a living—to the meaningful—finding life.
  • They began their journey in the darkness of the graveyard shift, traveled beneath the brilliance of a glory-lit sky, and arrived in the radiance of the Light of the World.
  • They began their journey terrified at the appearance of an angel, but at their journey’s end, they testified about the appearance of the savior.
  • They hurried to Bethlehem wondering, but returned from Bethlehem worshiping.
            The shepherds were uniquely qualified to walk this road. Think about their location, less than ten miles from the Temple in Jerusalem, where every day priests sacrificed lambs in rituals to pay for sins. These shepherds provided those lambs. At the manger, they encountered the one who would years later be called the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. “ (John 1:29)
            As shepherds, they knew what it was like to risk life and limb protecting the flock and finding lost sheep. At the manger, they encountered the one who would years later say, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)
            At the manger, they found both the Lamb of God and the good shepherd swaddled in the flesh of an hours-old infant. Perhaps God included these men in Christ’s birth because of their unique foreshadowing of Christ’s death.
            What encouragement can we glean from the Christmas journey of the shepherds?
            Of all the participants in the first Christmas, we identify best with these men. We find Gabriel too other-worldly, the magi too wealthy and mysterious. We realize that Mary was given a once-in-eternity opportunity we will never have. But the shepherds, ordinary working folk like us, discovered that God “is not far from each one of us.” (Acts 17:27)
            Because God meets us more than halfway, it is only a short sprint into his arms.
            May the shepherds’ example guide us into the fold of the good shepherd, and from that sheltered place, into the wilderness to seek his lost sheep.

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