Meanwhile, out in the fields shepherds were tending their flocks, and to them, just like to Mary, an angel appears. I cannot say enough about what angels actually are. Somewhere along the line, the y got twisted into being these glowing white, usually female protectors with wings, but that’s not at all what they are. Angels are messengers. That’s what the word the means. So whenever you see the word “angel” in the scriptures, substitute it with “messenger” and see how it impacts your reading: “Then an messenger of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them…” (2:9). These shepherd had no clue what happening in the region. They’re protecting their flock, and out of nowhere this messenger shows up, and, perhaps more frightening, “the glory of the Lord shone around them”. That’s huge. It is as though they are now surrounded, immersed, even trapped, in the “glory of the Lord”. And when they hear the message, they can’t help but go and see. It says that they went “in haste”, which actually leads me to believe that they left the sheep behind. There is no haste with sheep.
But what is it about the news that compels them to go? First and foremost, it’s the coming of the Messiah. But they get more detail than that. This not just “good news” for Israel. It’s “good news for all the people” and it is “on earth, peace”. This is what we’ve been waiting for: good news and peace on earth. And it will all come through this child, this poor, homeless, vulnerable child.
One of the core running themes in the birth of Christ is “peace” and “good news”. And it is peace and good news that Jesus not only brings but through his life he leads us in. He calls us to be peacemakers. I wonder if he shows up as a poor, homeless, vulnerable baby in order to show us how to do this peace thing. I wonder if God is saying, among other things, “if you’re going to do this peace and good news thing, you’re going to have to learn to take care of one another. You’re going to have to learn how welcome the refugee, how to provide for the poor, and how to protect the vulnerable.” It’s like lesson one, above all, is “how will you care one another?” Right away God demands that we care for those who have need by being the one in need. Jesus came to save, but in order to do it, he first needed to be saved. Is it possible that salvation- that a truly saved humanity- is a humanity where we care for one another? Is it possible that a truly saved humanity is one where we recognize that God has already given us the resources to solve our problems and we do? The life of Christ, right from the beginning, is a life calling us to lay down our “rights” to see to it that we care for one another, and by “one another” I don’t merely mean our friends and family; I mean that we care for the stranger, the “other”- that we recognize that our “neighbors” don’t only live in our neighborhoods, but also live in the ones 5, 50, 500 and 5,000 miles away. Why does God show up so vulnerably? Maybe to show us that to live in God’s kingdom is to care for the most vulnerable among us. And maybe to show us that we already have what we need to be restorers of shalom in the world. We don’t need a change in leadership or a change in resources; we need a change of heart, mind, soul and strength. Maybe “peace on earth” and “good news to all the people” is actually within our grasp; we just need to muster the courage to let go of what we’re holding in order to grab a hold of it.