So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
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.
What were the shepherds thinking as they watched over their charge on that first Christmas? Some, perhaps, were simply thinking about a warm fire or a cup of hot broth. Others might have been thinking about how they ended up in a dead-end job watching someone else’s flock. Still others may have been wondering what it would take to make ends meet in their lowly economy.
Times were tough in this Judean province. Judea’s massive public works project – the building of Herod’s Great Temple – was nearing completion. Jobs were in short supply, and double taxation to pay both Rome and Herod for his temple stifled already meager incomes. To make matters worse, these shepherds lived at the bottom of the social ladder and were considered outcasts to most. They became victims of cruel stereotypes, and religious leaders even banned pasturing throughout Israel, except in the most rugged and unfriendly places.
Probably cold, lonely, and hungry, many shepherds may have wondered: where was God? As they gazed upon the barren and rocky hills, some might have thought in irony of verses they memorized as children.
I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore. (Psalm 121)
As they scratched out an existence in the Judean wilderness, these socially “undesirable” folks were offered an extraordinary gift: the opportunity to experience the gift of Jesus, the Emmanuel God with us. They saw in the Christ child a God just like them – God living their existence. This was a God who knew and cared for them just as they were, a God who suffered with them and for them, all in pursuit of his peace. Not the peace of at once making all things right, but the peace that God would be with them through all their pain, suffering, and challenging times. A peace given through God’s love in simply becoming human.
As we consider our world, our lives, and everything from triple epidemics to high inflation, I pray you might know the peace that God is still with us. Please take the time this Advent to gaze upon God’s creation. Look upon the majesty of all that God has made and remember that Jesus is still with us – the God who is just like us, who came to offer us his peace. He gave not as the world gives, but instead gave the lasting peace in knowing that God is with us.
Holy God, as we prepare for Christmas and the celebration of your coming to be with us, help us to see you with us and for us even before we recognize your presence. Open our eyes and minds to experience your peace and know your love that comes with your amazing grace.
Help us to remember that you are Emmanuel, always with us. Guide us to accepting your amazing love, your walk with us, and the gift of peace, shalom.
Jesus, please be with us.