Martin B. Copenhaver
"In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night… The angel said to them, "Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord." - Luke 2:8-20
On Christmas cards and in Christmas pageants the shepherds are portrayed as gentle keepers of the pastoral scene. But the reality of their lives was much harder and rougher. They were working men on the night shift, like cowboys in the Marlboro country around Bethlehem.
Shepherds were looked down upon because they could not keep the routine of hand washing and other forms of ritual cleanliness that were so much a part of Jewish law. Also, since sheep do not keep the Sabbath, neither could shepherds. So they stayed out of town, in part, because good people would not associate with them.
And yet the news of Jesus' birth is announced precisely here—not in a palace or a temple, not where things are bright and beautiful, not to good people, or to whoever might be considered the right people. As surprising as this would have been at the time, in retrospect it seems entirely fitting because Jesus is always showing up in the most unlikely places and associating with the most surprising people.
Perhaps you are enjoying a wonderful Christmas. Perhaps it is everything you planned. I certainly hope so.
But if you are far from home or feel distant from those who are very near, if there is more tension than cheer in the air, if you are exhausted, or feel a letdown, or if in any other way this feels like an unlikely place for Jesus to show up—pay particular attention. Because Jesus is always showing up in unlikely places, including perhaps the most unlikely place of all—our own lives.
Jesus, surprise us with your presence and your blessing this day—as only you can. Oh… and Happy Birthday. Amen.
Martin B. Copenhaver is Senior Pastor of Village Church, United Church of Christ, in Wellesley, Massachusetts. A new edition of his book, Living Faith While Holding Doubts has just been published by Pilgrim Press.