Here is the Link for Today’s Reading: http://bible.oremus.org/?ql=322655977
Annunciation of the Shepherds 2:8-15
Typically nativity scenes tend to blend together the different gospel accounts of Jesus’ birth. It is important to pay attention to the fact that Luke’s account does not include the magi (or three kings) that are in Matthew, and Matthew’s account does not include the shepherds. Certainly there were many versions of Jesus’ birth floating around, and chances are Matthew and Luke heard the same stories, but they choose to offer fairly different accounts. Who they chose to include as witnesses is important. It helps us understand what information they wanted to highlight about Jesus Christ and the nature of God in the world.
For readers of the gospels, one of the hardest things to do is to confront these incongruities. I find that learning to learn the lessons from the diversity of accounts in more important then trying to figure which is more true and accurate. All the accounts of Jesus’ life, even the conflicting ones, have important truths to tell.
I will not take time here to comment on the role of the Magi, rather I bring them up to help illuminate the diversity that exists within the bible. But I do want to explore the role of the Shepherd for Luke.
So far we have heard Mary exalt in a God who was gracious enough to choose her, someone of such low status in the Roman world that surrounded her. Then we hear of Zechariah comment on his own kind of ‘false’ status, only there because Rome allowed it. Zechariah is concerned with the power of Rome and the destruction they are capable of (made real in the destruction of the temple that would occur in about 60 years time). But Zechariah is able to find hope in the actions of a God able to bring a child to his previously barren wife. He knows his son will help be apart of eventually overturning the unjust hierarchies and power structures. He doesn’t know how yet, but he is confidently convinced God will be able to do it.
A major theme emerging in Luke so far is God’s ability to work against the unjust ways of the world, personified in the Roman Empire. That God’s power is not always in line with worldly power. The inclusion of the Shepherds as the primary witnesses to Christ’s birth is just another example of this.
If there is a group of folks lower on the social ladder than Mary and Joseph, it could very well have been the shepherd class. These were typically young men, living on the fringes of society, out in the fields alone, dirt poor, barely etching out an existence. These are the people God calls on to be witnesses. A bold statement on the part of God to say the least.
- What are the ramifications of God selecting the shepherds to be the first witnesses to Christ? What does that mean to us, today? Are their folks like the shepherds around today, who might be getting early editions of important news regarding the nature of God in the world?
- What different things are highlighted by Luke’s acknowledgement of the shepherd’s as first witnesses against Matthew’s use of the Magi as first witnesses (remembering, we know little about who and what the Magi specifically were, apart from their not being Jewish, as well as their clearly being foreigners)
- If Christ were to return today, based on this reading, who might the first witnesses be?
Shepherds and Mary and Jesus: 2:16-20
There are two things that jump out to me as I read this particular pericope. First is that the shepherds may have seen the angels, and heard all what they had to say, but they seem to have gone to bethlehem more out of curiosity, to check on whether what the angels were telling them was true or not. Clearly they were blown away when they got there, and everything that had been told to them was true. Could you imagine? It amazing enough to think of a host of angels appearing out of the night sky, to find what they told you to seek out, my heart only begins to understand what they must have felt. And they must have wondered, just like Mary, ‘Why Us?’
The other thing that jumps out at me is that all who were there were amazed. The Greek word used here is thamazo (note ‘amaz’ing) that has with it a sense of awe and wonder, to be struck with the information in such a way that you can barely believe it. But Mary isn’t amazed, rather she treasures the information. The Greek here is suntereo and carries with it the notion of preserving, of keeping safe, of guarding. Mary is comfortable with all this information, she has already accepted it, and already celebrates it, and knows deep down, how important Jesus will be. Since we are in the season of Lent, and heading towards Good Friday and then Easter, I have to wonder if treasuring this offered her some comfort, even if minuscule, the day Jesus was crucified.
Also important to note, the Shepherds probably were not the best folks to announce this news, since in returning, they were returning to their fields, to solitude, they wouldn’t have had many people to tell beyond the other shepherds, who would have seen the same thing.
- Our personal stories are probably not as dramatic as a host of angels appearing and being led to the newborn savior, but the Holy Spirit can work in amazing ways. Have you ever felt something, like you were being led somewhere, maybe unsure why, to get there and find something amazing, or that you were able to be of some kind of help to a person/people in need?
- Why the Shepherds? Why people who wouldn’t have had many people to tell? Do you think the news still was able to spread regardless of the seemingly poorly chosen transmitters of the information regarding Jesus’ birth?
- What are the things you treasure, that give you strength, that fill your heart with gladness?