To the shepherds
***For you new people, welcome! I’m a PhD epidemiologist and also a Christian evangelical pastor’s wife. I often write about faith and science and today’s post will have some of that. Not to proselytize, but to show that both can exist synergistically and should during this pandemic. (I actually wrote most of this last year and it still holds true.) To those of you who are weary, this is for you. To clergy who need help reframing precautions for your church, you might find this helpful. Happy holidays (all holidays!) to everyone during this season. Since my kiddos are out on winter break, I’m taking a few weeks off. I deeply wish you all a heartfelt holiday even in the midst of the hard and good.***
𝐓𝐨 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐒𝐡𝐞𝐩𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐝𝐬 - 𝐑𝐞𝐟𝐫𝐚𝐦𝐢𝐧𝐠 𝐂𝐡𝐫𝐢𝐬𝐭𝐦𝐚𝐬 𝐢𝐧 𝐚 𝐩𝐚𝐧𝐝𝐞𝐦𝐢𝐜
The Advent season for the Christian faith community is really important. It's the season before Christmas that symbolizes a deep sense of longing - a longing for something that is not here yet but is hoped for. Hope that is not seen as in Romans 8:24, but one that we wait for patiently (vs 25). A hope that we also have with groans too deep for words - deep enough we need the Spirit to intercede for us (vs 26). A hope of the "here-and-not-yet", the "dawn and the sunrise" as Karl Barth put it.
So, this longing for things to be made right, in anticipation of who was born on Christmas, is.....uncomfortable. And, many of us are experiencing that this year more than we ever have with so many losses - loss of family members to COVID-19 or other reasons, loss of friendships, missing seeing our grandchildren - or, just plain ole' uncomfortableness of knowing what is happening right now in the world is just not right. Do you feel a groan about that in you that is too deep for words? That's the longing of Advent. For many of us, this is a new feeling at Christmas because, well, Christmas has been a season of busyness and fulfillment- not quiet or aching. In the spirit of Advent and longing, let's lean into it a bit this year - lean into the uncomfortableness of Romans 8 type longing. So, I'm wondering if we need to reframe this 2021 Christmas according to the first Christmas - quiet, simple, not many people, calm.
𝐓𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐛𝐫𝐢𝐧𝐠𝐬 𝐦𝐞 𝐭𝐨 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐒𝐡𝐞𝐩𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐝𝐬. In the Christmas story, the entire hosts of angels (not just Gabriel and a side-kick, the ENTIRE hosts!) appeared first to the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus. The angel-choir could have announced the birth from the main hub of Jerusalem to the leaders of the time or gone to the kings in the East or projected it on a huge billboard of Times Square (well, whatever that was at the time). The angels could have announced it like the scene in Aladdin where he comes in with the big parade ("Make waayyy...for Prince Ali" - now it's stuck in your head...you're welcome 😉).
Instead, the angels went to the Shepherds - some of the lowliest in society at that time, the marginalized, the unseen - in the middle of the night. (The whole Christmas story is upside-down of what was expected at that time anyways. This is an example of that and finishes with a king being born among livestock to an immigrant family. That upside-down/not-doing-things-as-usual Kingdom is for another post.) Let's get back to the shepherds for now...
𝐖𝐡𝐨 𝐚𝐫𝐞 𝐨𝐮𝐫 𝐦𝐨𝐝𝐞𝐫𝐧 𝐝𝐚𝐲 𝐒𝐡𝐞𝐩𝐡𝐞𝐫𝐝𝐬? Those that feel forgotten, marginalized, unseen? Let me share with you a few stories that people have sent me:
- Our healthcare workers, janitorial staff, technicians, etc in the ICUs who are living a reality in the hospitals that's opposite to people's actions during this Christmas season.
- Families who have lost a sister, mom, dad, grandparent this year - but, feel unseen as people go on like things are normal.
- Mommas trying to put food on the table for their kids, but can't afford a hospital bill. And, they still have to go to work as a cashier with people yelling at them without a mask.
- Church members/clergy who have left their church, lost their church, or are feeling angst about being at their church because they view differently about Loving our Neighbors than what they are seeing.
- Families who were already on the brink of poverty prior to the pandemic, and have now gone further down with a loss of jobs.
- People with family members that are high risk even with vaccines. The constant worry about people not caring is heavy.
This list could continue to go on. If you feel angst in this season prior to Christmas, that's Advent, that's a longing for Hope. If you feel angst in this season and are marginalized or feel forgotten, you are a Shepherd.
𝐀𝐧𝐝, 𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐭'𝐬 𝐰𝐡𝐨 𝐭𝐡𝐞 𝐚𝐧𝐠𝐞𝐥𝐬 𝐰𝐞𝐧𝐭 𝐭𝐨 𝐟𝐢𝐫𝐬𝐭. To herald in the birth of a Redeemer that would years later say, "Blessed are you who are poor in spirit for yours is the Kingdom of Heaven". An Overcomer who would take all shame, hurt, and pain on a cross and put it to rest to set things right. An Immanuel, God with us, who came for the sick, the poor, the marginalized, the captives - with us and for us. A Love that said the entire law could be summed up in love God and love others. Especially the Shepherds.
𝐖𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐝𝐨𝐞𝐬 𝐭𝐡𝐚𝐭 𝐦𝐞𝐚𝐧 𝐟𝐨𝐫 𝐦𝐞 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐂𝐡𝐫𝐢𝐬𝐭𝐦𝐚𝐬? This means I reframe Christmas in light of that first one - calm, quiet, longing, hoping. It means it is ok if we feel angst and longing and uncomfortableness - that longing leads to the end of Romans 8 with a huge promise that nothing can separate us from the love of who was born on Christmas.
It means we remember the Shepherds and make decisions to love and protect them - even if it feels uncomfortable and different this year as we make hard decisions to stay home - for the Shepherds. Perhaps that is where the true meaning of Christmas is anyways.
𝐂𝐡𝐫𝐢𝐬𝐭𝐦𝐚𝐬 𝐢𝐬𝐧'𝐭 𝐜𝐚𝐧𝐜𝐞𝐥𝐥𝐞𝐝 - 𝐢𝐭'𝐬 𝐦𝐚𝐠𝐧𝐢𝐟𝐢𝐞𝐝 𝐭𝐡𝐢𝐬 𝐲𝐞𝐚𝐫.
I want to leave you all with my favorite Christmas song, O Come, All ye Faithful, a hymn written by a refugee in the 1700s. It's thought this song is a reference to the shepherds after hearing the angels singing. We can't travel to Bethlehem to see the baby as the song suggests. But, we can live out the spirit of the song in our homes. For the shepherds of our time during this pandemic. And, magnify Who we long for. Immanuel, God with us.
Emily, Friendly neighbor epidemiologist
O come, all 𝐲𝐞 𝐟𝐚𝐢𝐭𝐡𝐟𝐮𝐥
O come, all ye faithful, Joyful and triumphant,
O Come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem.
Come and behold Him, Born the King of angels;
O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, O come, let us adore Him, Christ the Lord.
Sing, choirs of angels, Sing in exultation;
Sing, all ye citizens of heaven above!
Glory to God, In the highest;
Yea, Lord, we greet Thee, Born this happy morning;
Jesus, to Thee be glory given;
Word of the Father, Now in flesh appearing.
See how the shepherds, Summoned to His cradle,
Leaving their flocks, draw nigh to gaze;
We too will thither Bend our hearts' oblations
Child, for us sinners Poor and in the manger,
We would embrace Thee, with love and awe;
Who would not love Thee, Loving us so dearly?