It sounded like a good idea at the time.
Many years ago, we had the idea of telling the Christmas story from the perspective of the shepherds. Somebody suggested that we ought to get a lamb and tell the story while holding the lamb. In fact, to make it even more impressive – let’s get the kids gathered around with somebody holding the lamb.
What could go wrong? Lambs are cute. Docile. Cuddly. Soft.
Against my better judgment, I agreed to try it. My son, Cooper, was in middle school at the time and he was ‘voluntold’ that he would be the one to hold the lamb while I gave the devo. Again – it sounds fine and dandy until you actually get face to face with a lamb.
Here are the things I didn’t know about lambs. They are curious. Which means they are not going to just sit still and look cute. They require constant attention. They are noisy. They bleet all the time. They smell…they smell like you would think a barnyard animal would smell. And they occasionally nip at you.
Nothing went wrong per se, it’s just that it didn’t play out like we thought it would. That really shouldn’t be that surprising though, right? I mean, we’re talking about dealing with live animals.
If you think about the first Christmas from the perspective of the Shepherds, there are a lot of things that weren’t wrong…it just didn’t play out like it was expected.
First, these shepherds were more than likely looking over the Temple flocks. These animals were located in Bethlehem and raised for the sole purpose to be sacrificed. They would be transported to the Temple to be bought by travelers as their sacrifice.
Shepherds were typically the youngest siblings in the family. It was a dirty job because you practically lived with the animal. Shepherds had three pieces of equipment that was most valuable to them. Their staff for walking and nudging the sheep long. Their slingshot for larger predators. And their flute for their entertainment in the field.
Culturally, they were tolerated. They were outsiders. They were necessary – like migrant workers. They were the forgotten ones. Some scholars even believe that their testimony wasn’t even allowed in a court of law.
And on the night Jesus was born, God made sure they got a front row seat to the greatest birthday band in the world. Plus an invitation to go see the Christ child. The Messiah. The one who would bring God’s good will to all people.
The forgotten ones got an invite. They got front row seats to the most extraordinary moment in history. They had to feel at home as they entered the barn and saw the manger. Familiar sights and sounds and smells except for this teenage girl, her husband… and their child.
It was as if God was saying to them, “Come on, get close. Don’t miss this. Come see the Lamb of God who will take away the sin of the world.“
So in a forgotten town in an out of the way barn to two outsider parents, God With Us arrived.
Christmas is for the outsiders. The forgotten. The tolerated.