It’s the beginning of another frightening day. Everywhere I turn I hear stories of the fires of hatred and fear that are being ingeniously fanned by people who hope for big gains through this practice. News is exaggerated beyond the grain of truth at its center, enemies are created and accused. And the weapons drawn in the heat of all the emotion thus generated are more sophisticated, bigger and more destructive than ever before.
We could die just going to a movie. But in this country that’s not the most frightening thing. The most frightening thing is the retaliative legislation and the hate-propelled violence aimed at innocent citizens, not by extremists but by ordinary folk who have fallen prey to the fear-merchants. Where has our common sense gone? Where is our basic decency?
Into the midst of my churning anxiety falls this old story of shepherds watching their flocks by night. I let myself imagine them. They’re grouped around a small fire and beyond them in the darkness is the restive shift and mutter of hundreds of unseen animals. Over their head arches a deep black canopy filled with billions of pricks of light. They haven’t washed for days, so they’re dirty and smelly. They’re relaxing now, bunched against the cold. Maybe they’re telling stories. Always they are deeply attentive to what is happening in and near the flock.
And suddenly the sky is ripped open with light. An angel – an archangel! – stands before them. This improbable being tells them about the birth of a very special child. Then a whole company of angels appears, praising God. Afterwards, the shepherds say, “Let’s go and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” Of course they do. Who wouldn’t, after having been privileged to see the glorious celebration of heaven?
Within each of us there is a shepherd. It is that quiet, unassuming part of us that is still sitting out under the stars. Maybe it manifests when we are unwashed and rumpled, sitting on the sofa with our first cup of coffee. Maybe it comes forth when we are jogging and we smell snow in the air and smile. Maybe it appears when we sit down to pray before going to bed. Listening to the movements of the hidden flock, listening to the fire and the stories, overshadowed by the glorious, mysterious arc of heaven, smelly, lowly – that is the part of us privileged to see the angels and to hear their praise. Find that place in you, the place open to wonder. Listen, now, listen with the heart of a shepherd.
Christ’s birth into the world is still a game-changer. In the midst of hatred and fear, God comes. Now, this very night, God will be with us. God’s love for us and God’s commitment to us will be manifest. Have hope, then. Be of good cheer. No matter how scary things get, Immanuel is right here with us. We carry the Christ in our hearts, and so each small thing we do for love and for wholeness will be amplified a thousand times. Listen. Listen to the joy of the angels.
Laurie Gudim is a writer and religious iconographer who lives in Fort Collins, CO. You can view some of her work at Everyday Mysteries.
Image: by Laurie Gudim