Shepherds in the Field

Shepherds watching flocks by night, mat05403_thumb[2]Well, tomorrow is the big day, the one we’ve been waiting for. Some of us waiting expectantly in tradition of Advent, but most waiting to celebrate Christmas. Funny thing, that. A great many celebrants will be missing the point completely because Christmas isn’t really for a lot of the people who celebrate it. Christmas has become an annual feast of materialism disguised as a family get-together. Tomorrow, the day the Christian faith celebrates the birth of a man who renounced all worldly possessions, we will commemorate it by eating massive amounts of food and giving extravagant gifts. Tonight, in preparation for that Bacchanalia, a great many Christians will go to the church of their choice for a worship service centered on the birth story found in Luke. That story, however, bears little resemblance to what we will do tomorrow.

Luke has been called “the Gospel of the least, the last and the lost” (not sure by who, but Michael said in his sermon yesterday and I liked it, so you’re seeing it here). From the very beginning, Luke’s gospel is concerned with those of the lowest social strata, as can be seen by the fact that shepherds were the first people to come see Jesus after His birth. In first century Palestine, you didn’t get much lower than a shepherd. They were considered shady, accused of using underhanded methods of increasing their flocks and had a reputation (deserved or not) of engaging in unspeakable acts with those flocks. But, these are the men to whom the angels first appeared and gave notice of the birth of a savior. Later, Luke relates the parable of the Good Samaritan and the story of the widow’s mite, both plot lines concerned with those outside the mainstream of Jewish culture. Each Gospel has its own personality: Matthew tells of a Jewish messiah connected over time with David and Moses; Mark is concerned with getting the Jesus message out as quickly as possible; John is all about love and Luke? Luke is a message of hope for a beaten down, oppressed people: gentile believers who were feeling the boot of Rome, not well-to-do, white people in power enjoying the ascendancy of their religion.

That’s why Christmas isn’t for us, those who have plenty and throw it around among ourselves. It’s for the homeless person begging on the street corner; the single mother who doesn’t know how she’s going to feed her children not just Christmas Day, but the rest of the week; the gay couple who have been faithful to each other for 20 years, yet aren’t allowed to wed because that will “destroy the institution of marriage”; the addict who can’t see a way out of the black hole they find themselves in…, I could go on, but I think you get the picture. For them, just like those shepherds in Luke, Christmas is (or should be) a new beginning, a way out of their current, shitty predicament. It will only become that when those of us with plenty work to make that so. And, do it all year long, not just in December.