This holy season let us take a fresh look at some of the characters of the Christmas story.
Shepherds. I lived on a small farm, or perhaps small ranch. We had animals. It was not our only source of income. I can imagine what life must have been like for first century shepherds watching over their flocks by night. They had to watch for wolves as we might watch for coyotes or other prey. They were on the job, working the graveyard shift. For a class I am taking called “living and dying well” we read an old classic book by Victor Frankl called Man’s Search for Meaning. In it Frankl talks about an “existential vacuum”. By that he means we sometimes fluctuate between distress and boredom. I wonder if the shepherds like first responders may at times move between extreme crisis to slow and painful boredom. The shepherds were doing their job and that is where God met them. Sometimes in the busy-ness or the mundane routine of our work God surprises us with good news. Let us pay attention to where God may meet us in our work this harried season. Someone called it the “tyranny of the season”. May we find peace in the midst of it all.
Simeon & Anna. Two characters that are often overlooked in the days of baby Jesus are Simeon and Anna. Both of these characters were old. They waited faithfully for the messiah. Anna was a prophet. Where did both Anna and Simeon meet God? The church of all places!! Sometimes we find when we worship, God shows up. Perhaps this season we too might find God in our services. Anna saw the Christ child and she was overwhelmed with joy and began talking about him to anyone who was looking for a word of hope. Simeon felt he could die in peace, for his eyes saw Jesus. He told Mary this child would be a light to the outsiders (Gentiles) and would bring about the rise and fall of Israel as their inner thoughts will be revealed. This child will bring out the inner thoughts of man. Many of those thoughts are not positive or visions of sugar plums dancing in their heads. When dormant rage surfaces, we see what has been there all along. Therefore, because the way of love and compassion and peace will be rejected a sword will pierce Mary’s soul. She must have felt something like whiplash. From the beaming pride of giving birth to a king, to the one who will be rejected and hated. Even though she could not have possibly known what would soon happen.
Herod The slaughter of the innocents is one of the most painful parts of our serene Christmas story. A narcissistic man who becomes the leader of the people kills all the children under the age of two. How could they let that happen? There is a danger in every age to lose sight of the fact that all people are children of God and therefore they are seen as dispensable. Herod is a reminder how ugly we can become in our world.
Scribes The wise man went to Herod, the king of the day, to find where this king of the Jews was to be born. And he had no idea so he went to the scribes and they pointed to Bethlehem because that was an elementary question. Anyone who read the Bible would know it was in Micah 5:2. But they didn’t bother to go and look. Has this become us? We are so familiar with the story, we have stop expecting? Familiarity breeds contempt. May the story find a fresh voice into our hearts this season.