In this account of the birth of Jesus nothing is quite as we would expect. For those involved, even if there were precedents or prophecies, the actual happenings were uniquely, and often uncomfortably, out of the ordinary.
The Baby… So a baby in a feeding trough was rare enough for the shepherds to distinguish the Messiah baby from all the other ones in Bethlehem that night. Even rough shepherds did better for their wives. (if only Herod had shown such precision, but tyrants don’t bother about collateral damage.)
The Shepherds… Inviting shepherds to be the first to hear of the birth and the first to visit the baby was not an obvious choice. They lived a semi nomadic life, rarely went to church, did not observe the purity rules and their sheep were prone to wander onto other peoples’ land. They were not respectable citizens, so if not actual ruffians, they were certainly outsiders. It was a strange choice, but they set a precedent as later it was to be a woman who first met the risen Christ.
It must have brought enormous comfort and a new confidence to the exhausted couple when the shepherds told them of their hillside experience.
The Angels… After Mary’s conception, this appearance of Angels is perhaps the most unusual and inspiring part of Luke’s whole story, for not only did an Angel speak clearly to a group of working men out in the country, but the heavens opened, and they saw and heard the Angelic Host worshipping and singing, ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace’. Paula Gooder writes, ‘the appearance of the host in worship to people on earth, as here at Jesus’ birth, is unique’. (Journey to the Manger.)
We do not know the melody and harmonies of the angelic song but the words must have been in Aramaic. The words themselves would be unexpected, for the Host means an army, and armies are designed to fight. The Host was rarely experienced, but it was seen by Elisha and his servant as horses and chariots. 2 Kings 6.14 – 17.
A message of Peace… But instead of a military message, for Jesus the Host is disarmed and sings a song of peace and goodwill, for heavens life is now revealed on earth in a newborn baby .
Then by introducing us to the Emperor Augustus, Luke invites us to compare that Lords peace, imposed by the sword, with the baby Lords peace, offered through love.
The Shepherds of today… Sadly our modern ‘emperors’ remain as deaf to the Angel song as most of their predecessors, but fortunately there are still the ‘shepherds’ of today; open to the unexpected and unconventional, who hear the song, visit the Manger, and return home ‘Glorifying and praising God for all they that they had heard and seen’ Luke 2.20.
Contributed by APF Trustee, Jonathan Hartfield – I Grew up in Hastings UK. Trained at St.Georges Hospital. Had an exciting and turbulent time in Nigeria in 60s. Moved to NZ in 1971. Worked as specialist in Obst &Gyn and later in palliative care in a Hospice. Retired from medicine in 2013. Ordained priest in 1986. I have 4 children 9 grand children. I am an enthusiastic gardener and a choir singer.
Disclaimer: This blog is intended to provide a space for people associated with APF to express their own personal views and opinions in order to promote discussion of issues relating to peacemaking and pacifism It is not necessarily a place where the official views of APF are expressed.