Preparation – Advent for the Lowly

crt83

hermeneutics.stackexchange.com

Shepherds.

So, I did a bit of research and found that several historians tell us that at the time of Jesus’ birth, shepherds were considered to be amongst the lowest of the low in society. They were not always so, regarded in fact as quite the opposite in earlier times, but not so now. Here they are. About as well regarded as tax collectors, who at best were despised with raw passion… as well esteemed as street cleaners, garbage collectors, who in a day cleaned streets littered with refuse of every pungent and putrid pile and kind …

Lower than low. Belittled. Reviled. Often deprived of civil rights. Distrusted. Sinners!

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But 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 Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’
(Luke 2: 8-14)

Interesting isn’t it? And wow, how significant!

These lowly shepherds were presented with not just a royal invitation, but one that was directly delivered by the celestial mouths of those in regular intimate contact with The Holy, with sacred Glory! No well-regarded leaders were on that divine mailing list.  No high-ranking, or low-ranking or mid-ranking government officials, or religious leaders, or worldly leaders of any clime received an invite to this first glimpse of the King of the Kingdom come on earth. Nope. None. Angels exuberantly share the good news with shepherds, and urge them to go – go! – see! touch! listen! Gaze with their own eyes, first-hand, upon the world’s Saviour, the long-awaited Messiah: the very One that the many who rejected these humble shepherds were, and would be, too blind to see.

Imagine … Wow.

Simple. Poor. Unsuccessful. Nobody. Ordinary. Backward. Tsk. Half-wit. Slow. Uneducated. Irrelevant. Laughable. Dense. Naive … … Sinner.

And what labels have you been slapped with? Oh friends, I say we drop them all and go – go and see!

Let’s take our lead from these humble shepherds and draw close to the Good Shepherd. Let’s listen for His gently persistent and holy invitation calling out for us. Do you hear it? It’s that whisper that softly lingers and recurs over the cacophony of the world, over the branding and ranking, over the inflictions and afflictions that break and crush us. Let us go friend! Let’s run, yes, with our hair and hearts a tossed mess, our fingernails and minds crammed with dirt, our clothes and souls pungent and smelly, our faces and spirits smudged and soiled. Let’s stand up, and pick up our feet and go! Let’s look and see. Let’s linger and listen. Our long-awaited Messiah, our Saviour, is here, and He is inviting us to come close!

jen-s-nativity-vector-silhouette

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
(Luke 2: 15-20)

Erin
Soil and Seed

Preparation – Caught up in Advent

It is said that authors are considered good at their craft when they’ve managed to draw you in to their story, to connect you to the humanness of their characters; their inner struggles within their outward context, to their victory, and their victory in the overarching theme. They use many methods, many ‘literary devices’, all mixed together like a fine recipe concocted by these artisans to produce an aroma that patiently draws in the reader, teaching and activating their imagination and inquiring mind. And sometimes the reader becomes so caught up that they search out other sources for more context – cultural or environmental – to add textured background to the narrative.

Like I did.

Nazareth. The tiny little town of even tinier importance in Galilee in the northern region of Israel. An area of rocky terrain with clutches of flora and fauna. The might of Roman military everywhere. The violent Herod the Great as regional king. Taxes. Taxes. Taxes. Taxes on taxes. Peasants plugging away at a meagre living and food supply, often combining several channels of income through carpentry and other craft, as well as farming.

th-134It is a time with many accepted norms of the day. Among them, that intimacy before marriage brought immense shame upon the family and was a punishable offence. By death. It was a time when the promise of marriage to another would mean you would spend your engagement period separated from your ‘betrothed’. Study of the practices at the time of Mary and Joseph reveal that young (probably late-teen-aged) Mary, soon to be wed to Joseph, would have been whisked away to have likely spent time the rest of her pre-wedding day-to-day in the sole company of women. It was very likely during this time she was visited by the angel Gabriel, and her scandalous puzzling pregnancy would begin to show and grow. Not only would she have had to have somehow manage to live through the raising of more than a few eyebrows, nosey questions, suspicions, rejection and alienation amongst the women with whom she lived (from the dead giveaway of first time she would not have participated in the ‘monthly purification rituals’), she would have had to consider honourable, devout and Law-abiding Joseph’s reaction as well. And quite possibly, Joseph might have been the last to know.

Will he believe me? The worry. Will he reject me? Will I be cast off and shamed for the rest of my life? The gulp. “He is an honourable man. I must tell him.” The rehearsing. “Joseph, I’m pregnant.” “Joseph! I have amazing news! I saw and spoke with an angel!” “Joseph, guess what? We’ve been chosen! An angel told me that we’re pregnant – with God’s Son!”  The gulp. The screwing up of courage and setting out to see Joseph. The determination to keep focus and not run away.

Carpenter’s nails protruding from pursed lips. Clenched jaw in concentration. Hands and hair covered in sawdust. Feet buried in pillows of curls of wood. Marriage! Responsibility! Brow furrowed, thoughts focused, and beads of sweat trickling down the hairline. “Hmmm?” the preoccupied answer comes.

Joseph,” comes the call with greater urgency. Brows knitted with worry and concern. Eyes searching his face. Hands tightly clasped. Oh thank the Father for the long robe! Knees shaking. Tummy showing? Heart beating out of chest. Shaking deep breath.

Deep mahogany eyes turn from the worktable. The smile. The hand caressing her velvet cheek. Heart captured by her beauty. Hmm? The smile fading. The glance down to what the slender hands are resting on. Mary? You’re … What? The hammer falling to the ground with a thud. The step back. How? Who? The mind racing. Surely now she belongs to another! Custom allows me to divorce her, for to take a child that is not mine is dishonourable. But it must be done quietly. Yes, I must quietly return her to her parents, spare her and her family the shame and exposure to the radical punishment of such a sin, of the prescribed stoning (Numbers 5).

But. The dream. The honour of God speaking directly to him! The affirmation of Mary’s wild, dizzying and astonishing story. The promise of a boy! The assigning his unborn child’s Name! The Name that means “God saves!” The joy! Fulfillment of ancient prophecy! The humble obedience. The conversation with the anxious Mary in quiet and reassuring tone. The decision to fulfill the marriage covenant. Census! The preparation for travel. The enduring of scorn and spitting and sneers and jeers in the village. The gentle care, the fierce protectiveness over Mary. The leaving in haste with his very pregnant betrothed.

The very long and arduous journey. The incessant bouncing up and down. Are we there yet? The twinges, the cramping, the increasing pain. The lights of the town ahead. The labour starting and progressing rapidly. The slow moaning.

The crowds. The yelps and increasing groanings from his wife. The hope of shelter. The frantic search. “Jo-SEPH!” Sir, do you have a room? Sorry. No room for you. Census don’t forget. Nope, not here. Nor here. Not anywhere. Wait. We have something. In the barn. With the animals. Interested?

The intense labour and the birth. The first cry. The wonder. What child is this, and what will his future be? Scorn. Shame. Revilement. Anger. Hatred. Rejection. Brutality. Evil spewing venom, pulling out all the stops to silence Him, as early as His first cry right up until his last breath.

Why for heaven’s sake? Why would He come? Why would He endure all this?

For our sake. For Love. For His immeasurable, unending and mind-blowing unconditional love for you, for me, for all of us. In Love’s Name, in its very nature, in its purity, in its hope, in its promise. For its very nature. To stand in our place so we can live in His.

th-86All in that Babe, in that stable, in that feed box, on that cold damp night under that star so joyful and bright.

For all of us.

Will we make room from Him, for the wonder, for the mystery – in the inn of our hearts?

 

For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
(Isaiah 9:6)

Erin
Soil and Seed

 

Preparation – The Advent of a Fresh Way

In the church calendar, we are in the season of Advent; a period of reflection and expectation as we near our celebration of the birth of Christ. An active season it is, to be sure. a-shoot-shall-come-out-of-jesseChurches busy themselves with hanging royal purple from their altars and lecterns, with practicing gloriously joyous and contemplative music, with purchasing candles and wreaths and finding players for pageants, all to help in the retelling for the world the Story of stories over Advent’s four weeks. The world around bustles in a flurry of purchasing gifts, sending cards, baking cookies and loaves and cakes, decorating and planning and inviting and partying.

Oh, there is just so much to do isn’t there! And often I think amid the Santas in the malls, the wrapping and shopping and carolling and hot chocolate and reindeer and pancakes and turkey and full-throttle celebrating, we are sometimes so pushed about in the fray that we get lost. We become so preoccupied that we sometimes forget. We ignore the call that heralds us back from the barrage, to slow down and share in the wonder, to pause and spend time in personal reflection. We brush aside the invitation to consider, to have a sliver of faith to maybe just maybe believe, to grasp what the Babe in the manger might possibly mean for us, what the Babe just might possibly mean for all of humanity. Tsk! We have too many things, important things to do to take a break! we say as we check off our to-do lists.

What could this Babe’s invitation possibly hold of any value?

Peace – but not according to the world’s definition of peace. Something far deeper, far more true and lasting, far more genuine.

Love – but not according to the world’s washed-out definition of love. Something far more vibrant, far more sincere, far richer, far more expansive.

Hope – but not according to the world’s misguided hope. Something far more substantial, more refreshing, far more undeniable.

Joy – but not happiness, not what depends upon circumstance. Something far more profound, more heartfelt, far more bona fide.

Can we interrupt the season’s diversions for just a moment to leap into that tiniest sliver of faith to venture close to that manger in wonder?

I wonder ….

Erin
Soil and Seed