Tuesday, December 25, 2018

The Problem with Shepherds in the Christmas Story

[I don’t normally blog here, but instead at www.elementalchurches.com…though posts there are typically geared toward church leadership.]


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 of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12)

In her preschool Christmas play last week, my four-year-old granddaughter Emmie was a sheep. I may be biased, but I think it was one of the more demanding roles: it required crawling to the manger on all fours and then sitting perfectly still while scriptures were read by an infinitely patient teacher.

Of course, every cell phone was in video mode. The Christmas story with kids dressed as animals is guaranteed a five star review.

But the truth is, shepherds were at the bottom of the food chain. The book of Genesis tells us that the highly-cultured Egyptians considered shepherds “detestable.” But think about this: the most important event in human history happens and who learns about it first? The guys on the third shift sidestepping sheep poop.

How about that for some cosmic irony?

I’m not sure anything has changed much. Don’t get me wrong, but sometimes I look around the “Big C” Church and I think, “God, is this really the best you can do?” And I’m well aware of my own history. For heaven’s sake, I’m a drummer…and I’ve heard every drummer joke in the cosmos.

One of the earliest non-canonical Christian writings we have is the Epistle to Diognetes, possibly as early as 130 A.D. The author gives a powerful picture of the early Christians:

“They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all others; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring. They have a common table, but not a common bed. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death and restored to life. They are poor yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things and yet abound in all; they are dishonored and yet in their very dishonor are glorified. They are evil spoken of and yet are justified; they are reviled and bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor; they do good yet are punished as evildoers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred. To sum it all up in one word -- what the soul is to the body, that are Christians in the world.”

Interestingly, the apostle Paul reflects this in 1 Corinthians:

Take a good look, friends, at who you were when you got called into this life. I don’t see many of ‘the brightest and the best’ among you, not many influential, not many from high-society families. Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these ‘nobodies’ to expose the hollow pretensions of the ‘somebodies’? That makes it quite clear that none of you can get by with blowing your own horn before God. Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 1:26-30 Message Bible)

Maybe that’s what I like best about the story of the God who slips into the world as an infant and sends His press release to sheep herders first: it’s upside down and “last-shall-be-first”-type craziness that somehow seems right to me.

So come on in, you losers. You outcasts. You thieves. You whores and pimps. You scammers. Come on in, you corporate cast-offs. You overlooked and underrated. Come on in and be seen, all you who are invisible.

Come on in, you drummers.
Come and bend your knee.

Merry Christmas to all! And may this be your brightest.

--> [I don’t normally blog here, but instead at www.elementalchurches.com…though posts there are typically geared toward church leadership.]

Friday, January 05, 2018


There are times when I’ve wondered why God doesn’t perform some cosmic CGI and simply write his name in fire across the sky to prove his existence. Or why he wouldn’t just unzip the fabric of the universe and show humanity a glimpse of his alternative cosmos. Or, at the very least, why Jesus didn’t simply fly around the globe and visit each country with his new post-resurrection body if he was who he said he was.

Show me.

But I’ve come to believe something much simpler is required. Perhaps the most remarkable attribute of God is his humility: the “humble-ness” of the Father. After Jesus had said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls,” he would later stun his management team (again) to remind them, “Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.”

Wouldn’t it be interesting if God were revealed to us not by us begging for Spielberg-type expressions of power, but rather by us adopting a spirit of humility—that maybe, just maybe, we’re not as clever and sophisticated as we think? That maybe we don’t know as much as we think we do? That, oddly, the doorway into his presence is simpler and smaller and requires us to stoop, perhaps in order to touch his real nature?

And maybe the idea that he might visit us via a backwoods town in an oppressed tribe and bedded down in a feeding trough for farm animals says more about how we might understand him than any fiery parade across the sky? Just maybe?

Let me offer a suggestion from a rational pragmatist and former agnostic: it works.

Merry Christmas, my friends. And may 2018 be your best year yet.