Thursday, December 4, 2008

Simple men

The house I grew up in was only about a block away from the edge of town. Though we lived on a hill (as did everyone in our town), we weren't quite at the top and just a short walk was a water tower, and beyond that, only wheat fields--at least when I was a child.  These days, houses have spilled over that hill, and the one beyond, and the one beyond that.  But in the days of my childhood, we were almost the last street away from the country.  And up at that torquoise-painted water tower, I used to sit, stare out at the fields, watch  my dog run after birds and dig for whatever she could find.  If I turned my back on the glittering lit-up houses in town, the world was lit only by stars. 

Sometimes, especially on cold, snowy winter nights, when the air I breathed in was let out in a cloud, and the wind whipped around the tower whispering forlornly, I imagined such a cold winter night in fields outside of Bethlehem where simple shepherds lived in tents, cared for their flocks, talked quietly around campfires as they kept the predators of the dark from their sheep. 

It was a simple life those shepherds lived, they were simple men. They didn't expect the world to be upended in the dark.  If they'd ever hoped for the Messiah, these ordinary, faithful Jewish men, they wouldn't have dreamed to be the first to know about it.  That was the stuff for kings and priest, for warriors and mighty men.  Because that was the kind of King they were expecting.  But suddenly--yes, in an unexpected blast of light--the heavens opened and an angel blazed in front of them.  As always, that angel had to first calm their fears. The news the angel had, the proclamation, left them speechless and awed. "For unto you is born a Savior..." Unto them! Not just the learned or kingly, but to them.  Isn't this how the news from God always comes?  For to persons--one and one other--then to all.  Spoken to uneducated, poor men, people just scrambling after sheep to make whatever living they could from it--unto them this child is born.  Unto them this Begotten Son of God is given.  The Imanent--intimate, with-us God, and the Transcendent--too large and other for us to comprehend.  That's what this moment is, a moment with those two complete truths about God meet. Because as the angel spoke, behind and above it and all around the night sky, came thousands upon thousands (that's what a multitude means, after all) of angels who sang Hallelujahs, praising God in breathtaking symphony--"Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to all those on whom His favor rests." The favored ones--like those shepherds, who up until this moment, had lived small lives out in the fields.  Suddenly, with these words and this chorus, those shepherds were thrust into the seminal moment of the cosmos.

When the night grew dark again, the shepherds left their sheep. In one accord, they decided to hurry--to run with their robes flying and their sheep left untended, to find this child, to see this great thing--this sign, the angel had called Him-- that had come to Bethlehem.

And there He was, with his tired mama and his shell-shocked step-dad, just recovering from the baby's birth.  An hours old baby lay in a manger.  The very thing the angel had told them, that which, if they'd but understood, the prophets had written, the very thing God had intended from the garden-days at time's beginning, this Baby-who-is-God, right in front of them in a straw-filled manger.

Confronting God, they ran.  Not in fear, but in eager, unstoppable energy to wake the town, to scream the words from hilltop to housetop.  Only after they told everyone what they'd seen in the fields, who they'd seen in the staw, only then did they return and worship.  Glorifying God, praising Him for the Truth of this moment--that what the angel had told them was exactly what they'd seen.  Worship for who God is, and who he'd become on that silent, holy night.

Several things stand out about these shepherds.  That the biggest thing that ever happened, before or ever after, came first to them.  Came first to the lowly and unnoticed.  The night sky opened up and showed these insignificant, unknown men what worship is like in eternity, what God's Birthday had set off in heaven. 
Their responses to this good news, this once in eternity news was to run to Him.  And then, once He was verified, to witness to it.  They couldn't keep it to themselves, it was too big, too important.  They were compelled to tell all to all.  And then they worshipped.  Ultimately, one way or another, it always ends in worship.  Just imagine, the very first moments of His life on this earth, He was surrounded by simple men lifting their voices in awe.

At such moments, what is our response?  When we think of His birthday, are we compelled to run to Him?  Are we driven to share with everyone we meet, to wake them up from a dead (spiritual) sleep to spread this news?  The most important event in history has happened, and happened for you.  Unto you is born this day.  Unto you this Son is given.  Do you get this?  Are unable to think of anything else, to share anything else?  And, does it lead you to worship?  Does everything in your life culminate in simple, earnest praise to our God, who 'loved the world so much He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life", eternity with Him!

Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all those on whom His favor rests.

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