New Layers of the Christmas Story
Dec 24, 2022
A particular part of the Christmas story has hit me with fresh profundity this year. There are layers of culture, history, characters, symbolism and foreshadowing. It's a story that any three year old can understand and remember, but also one that continues to grow and unfold WITH you as you age and grow in experience. The layers start becoming more visible. There is a depth. I try to replicate this in my paintings, but I'm barely touching the surface. Anyway, back to the Christmas story. It's the layer of the shepherds that caught my attention this year.
Shepherds were considered complete outsiders. A necessary evil, if you will. Lambs were needed for the continuation of the Hebrew sacrificial system and SOMEONE had to take care of the flocks that were needed to meet God’s righteous demands. So you would think that this group of people would be honored, but they were marginalized and forgotten instead. I can think of a lot of various people groups that might fit into this status…homeless veterans, single mothers, migrant workers, teachers, sanitation workers, etc.
Throughout the year I had learned a couple new things about the shepherds and about the sacrificial system. When baby lambs are chosen to be given for sacrifice, they are wrapped in strips of swaddling clothes.
“The newborn lambs would be wrapped tightly… swaddled… in specially designated temple cloths, and they would be laid in a manger to keep them contained while they were being examined for blemishes. At the appointed time, the shepherds would separate the lambs, selecting only the firstborn males that were without mark or blemish, and would lead them to Jerusalem, where they would be purchased by people wanting to present a sacrifice before the Lord to atone for their sins.” –Jenée Baldwin (https://www.dawsoncreekmirror.ca)
The angels who announced the birth of the Messiah to the shepherds could have told them lots of different information about how to find the young family, but they chose information that would pinpoint the purpose of this birth. Sacrifice. Restoration. Swaddling clothes. They were used to wrapping their sweet, innocent lambs in these strips of cloth. But a baby boy? This was crazy. This was horrific.
This connection would have been scandalous to the shepherds who were also awaiting for a Messiah that was going to make everything right. The Hebrew cultural understanding of the promised Messiah was that of a warrior who would put the Roman nation in its place and help the nation of Israel rise again to the glory it had known during the reign of King Solomon. Talk about the under-dog story of the century!
Sure, that would have been a great story, but God had something far better in mind. The Hebrew nation had forgotten the heart of God and at this very point in time, He used a marginalized, distained group of nobodies to help them see it once again. Some would get it and some would miss the point completely. I can imagine the audacity and awe the shepherds must have felt as they glimpsed the heart of God. A God willing to give up His child as a sacrifice to atone for a broken world. Who else would “get” this act other than shepherds who routinely had their hearts broken by handing over the “babes” they helped bring into the world, protected and probably named?
When I think about this, I’m struck by the wisdom of God and how He picked the most suited group of people to share the most amazing news with the world. Not just the information, but the intent and the love behind the good news. Extravagant, audacious, and complete love like they had never seen before.
So, what I’m thinking about now, as I consider these new insights, is how can I love others around me in the way God loved those shepherds, inviting them to share in a story bigger than their own in a way that only they could? Valuing their unique perspective and seeing that what they had to offer was perfect in all the ways that mattered. Lord, help me to see people as you do. Help me love like that. Amen.