The shepherds are examples of how we too must respond to the Incarnation and the declaration of the Messiah's prophetic arrival
In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register. Luke 2:1-3
Take a moment to consider what Luke highlights as transpiring “in those days” (Luke 2:1).
We note that Caesar Augustus had an agenda. His imperial purposes were rearranging the plans of the world and forcing road trips for the masses. Emperors find ways to dominate headlines and bring everyone to chatter. Consider how much of your time in 2020 was consumed with scrolling the endless news cycle dominated by elections both in Canada (three of ten provinces had general elections in this pandemic year) and, most consumingly, the United States.
We note also in Luke 2 that Syria was in the news. Quirinius was administering his first census – surely a logistical nightmare. Empirical outposts like Syria and Judea managed diverse populations including enemies, and now everyone was experiencing unhappy forced homecomings. Even Nazarenes were on the move – and the rumour was that nothing good came from there (John 1:46). It seems almost ages ago now that Syrian refugees bobbed in the Mediterranean looking for a home, but World Vision notes that this remains the largest displacement crisis of our time and is in its tenth year.
Consider how many cultural and religious tensions – and their horrific impact on human beings made in God’s image – impacted 2020. Do you remember George Floyd? How about the border tensions between India and China or the Armenia-Azerbaijan war?
And we note, as Luke 2 famously reminds us, there were shepherds out in their fields. The designs of emperors and frustrated peoples were likely trivial matters to them. The daily grind, fresh air, bleating sheep – the earthy and mundane consumed them. No matter who ruled they plodded on, happy for the peace to be found in the fields. You get the sense these were the guys most likely to ignore imperial decrees or follow what was trending.
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 Saviour 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 favour rests.” Luke 2:9-14
How fitting that God glorified in the highest heaven would announce that peace had come to a place of lowly escape from the craziness of “those days.”
“These days” don’t seem too different from “those days,” do they? Leaders make disrupting decisions, global and local unrest is newsworthy, people are migrating, and everyday work continues in a variety of fields – though many have been put out to pasture this year as the fallout of Covid-19 disrupts everything about our world.
“These days” and “those days.” God has acted. The Messiah has come and will come again. Peace has interrupted our days, but this peace is not ours to pocket. It is to be acted upon and gifted to others (Luke 2:15-18). This is what the unlikely shepherds do.
The Nativity stories highlight the shepherds as examples of how we too must respond to the Incarnation and the declaration of the Messiah’s prophetic arrival. Can it be more than pithy Christmas sentimentality? Can we commit to a 2021 where our lives, households and churches embody the hope of God’s peace and reconciliation?
Can we commit ourselves to embrace the ministry of peace and reconciliation as central to getting up from the manger and walking back into the real and shaking world of “these days?”
Phil Wagler is lead pastor at Kelowna Gospel Fellowship in Kelowna, B.C., and North American network coordinator of the Peace and Reconciliation Network. Photo by Árni Svanur Daníelsson on Unsplash. This blog series is produced in collaboration with the Peace & Reconciliation Network, an initiative of the World Evangelical Alliance. Read all the posts at faithtoday.ca/reconciling.