Friday, December 24, 2010

Felix Dies Nativitatis

You can say all kinds of annoying things about Jesus being born in the summertime, Winter Solstice being the origin of the holiday, trees and decorations starting out with paganism... it's really not a big deal.

But I am honored and thrilled to celebrate the birth of the Messiah of the world this time of year!

"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.'” -- Luke 2:-14

I'm going to rob the guy who wrote part of the lesson we have been doing in my church class, as well as my pastor. And by rob, I mean talk about what they did.

Anyways, it's just really crazy that shepherds of all people were the first to be informed by angels on the night of Jesus' birth. Shepherds literally lived with their sheep, spending all their time with them out in the deserts and fields, probably having no real family. They were smelly and probably socially outcast. They were never clean enough to go into the temples themselves in Israel. In sum, they were kind of bumpkin homeless people who lived with animals full-time. For the King of Kings being born, most people did not expect shepherds to be among the first to know, and first to worship him. It seems a little weird that someone else wouldn't be told before them to go and see. It really shows how Christ was not for the rich, the famous, or the powerful, or even the "normal" or the hygienic and acceptable. He is for desert herdsmen. And to them would the proclamation of his birth be delivered first.

At the same time, it's not so crazy. Shepherds' lives are devoted to the protection and care of their sheep. They guide them to food and water, and know how many there are and what they sound like and look like. They set up sorts of fences or boundaries with whatever they can find in order to hold in the sheep, and they lay down at the opening of the pen to protect them personally from harm. They are gentle, and the sheep follow their familiar and trustworthy voices -- shepherds in Israel don't need sheepdogs to chase and bite at the sheep like shepherds in other places do.

"He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young." -- Isaiah 40:11

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will shepherd my people Israel.’" -- Matthew 2:6

“Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. [...] I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. [...] I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd." -- John 10:1-16

Find comfort in the sheep pen of the Lord where Christ himself enters by the gate and lies there for us, because he wills our security and lack of fear out of abundant love.

Happy Christmas to you, peace on earth, and goodwill to all!

"The LORD is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD
forever." -- Psalm 23

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