“I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
We hear this passage every year…
Dreamy Shepherds, singing Angels, brave Mary… But Think about how radical it is:
A messenger from God bringing good news for the entire world?! And the message doesn’t come via the press, it doesn’t come as a political appointment, and it doesn’t come to the privileged. It comes to the shepherds.
And the angel comes with a host of other angels.
Now if you’ve ever looked at images or icons of angels, they are often in military dress. A “host" means a troop; it means an army.
An army of Angels comes to the shepherds.
An army of Angels who are singing.
This week I spent some time with my parents upstate. One of our projects was getting the large round hay bales out in the fields for the cows for winter. My job was to cut and collect the blue twine from each one as my dad went back and forth to the long shed with the tractor. It gave me a couple of hours to think about the shepherds.
When you are out in the fields you have time, and the sky. It is meditative to do this kind of work. I imagine over many days, and over large areas of field it might feel very solitary, quiet; no tractor sounds.
There’d be a lot of faith - and a lot of hope that the next task would go well, your friends would show up, you’d have a warm meal; your animals would stay healthy. You would make up many games.
And I imagine you would sing.
Our story tells us that King David made up many songs while he was a shepherd. When we refer to the “Psalmist singing” that’s what we mean. We have these early, early songs that "endlessly give themselves to us "(1).
When I hear this passage, I imagine this host of angels mirroring this group of shepherds, each band singing a song.
"Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace, good will toward men!”
The announcement and the birth of Jesus that we tell each year is our story. It mirrors us, as the angels mirror the shepherds…It is our dream of the promise.
It is important for us to retell it. It is not repetitive, but "endlessly gives to us" like the psalms, incrementally we receive it more deeply as we grow and age.
It is a story about love, about love incarnate, and about a promise of peace for all the world.
Right now in Gaza shepherds are forced to abandon their animals.
In a small strip of land adjacent to Egypt, women are forced to give birth in cars and in tents without any medical care. It is 2023.
Their stories with terrifying and dangerous circumstances mirror the Mother Mary’s forced journey - and a treacherous birth unaccompanied by midwives.
In a recent Los Angeles Times article, a pregnant woman named Sara in Gaza shared her plight. “It’s possible Sara and her family could be forced into exile in the Sinai Desert. (3) But she fervently hopes a cease-fire will be called before a mass exodus of Palestinians could happen. For Sara, her faith in God’s will remains unshakable: ‘I trust he will always be there for me’.”
Equally radical, like Sara, Mary believed wholly what Jesus was going to teach… she expressed in her song:
He has mercy on those who fear him *
in every generation.
he has scattered the proud in their conceit.
and has lifted up the lowly.
He has filled the hungry with good things, *
and the rich he has sent away empty.
Mary: radical lady - and Mary is with us in Palestine today.
Recent theologies want to point out that the nativity story has taken out the messy and difficult, painful and carnal aspects of childbirth. They ask us to look at the real woman in the story.
It is always important for us to consider who is left out of our story… and primary- this story retells that God comes to us in times of great turmoil. God comes to us through the victimized and to the marginalized - God is not out there somewhere, but in the hearts and bodies of people - and people on the edge… and that people like Sara and people like Mary.
To be a God bearer, a love bearer is our call. This idea that God is born in flesh, the incarnation, is radical - and shows us that there is divinity in matter. God is enfleshed; God’s DNA is in every living thing. And that requires of us true responsibility for one another and everything and everyone on our planet.
I recently heard the term “post Christendom” used to describe the cultural shift in our society. But we have to remember that the earliest Christians were also small counter-cultural communities living in a pre-Christendom.
…grounded in love. It was not yet seduced and manipulated by empire and control.
So, we continue to tell our story…
Because it is important.
Not because it is the only Story, but because it is a living story that gives to us endlessly:
It’s important because we hope, like the shepherds, for the promise of Peace and safety; We hope for armies of guardian Angels rather than armies of War.
It’s important because we believe like Mary "in the tender sheltering of mercy that restores relationships." (3)
And we believe that to be like Jesus is to birth God’s love, at the very core of our being - in us and spread through us.
Singing and …”bringing good news of Great Joy for all the World."
1. Finley, James. (Host). (2023, October 2nd). Dialogue II A loving Exchange (No. 5 of Mechthild of Magdeburg). In Turning to the Mystics, Center for Action and Contemplation. https://cac.org/podcasts/dialogue-2-a-loving-exchange/
2. Baker, Catherine and Shahd Safi. Dec. 22, 2023 3:03 AM PTLos Angeles. Opinion: Not far from Bethlehem, the plight of pregnant women in Gaza evokes a biblical story. Los Angeles Times. https://www.latimes.com/opinion/story/2023-12-22/gaza-israel-hamas-pregnant-women-christmas-bethlehem
3. Bourgeault, Cynthia. (2023, December 22) Words from the Desert Fathers and Mothers for Advent and Christmas. Spirituality and Practice E-course, Claremont, California. https://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/