I imagine the shepherds had stared up at the stars hundreds and hundreds of times, fighting sleep, trying to stay alert as they watched their flocks. Some of those times they had to have been bored out of their minds. Surely one or another of them ocassionally saw star light refracted through tears—maybe of sorrow, maybe of relief, maybe of despair. They had the hard work of getting through the hours of watch with all the sheep safe and the reward for success was more work the next night. I wonder if, from time to time, the immensity of the sky got to them, made them feel as small and insigificant as a speck of dust on the back of a flea.
That night there was a different kind of star but probably only those who had come to know a lot about the night skies noticed anything different.. There were voices, the voices of angels, heralds of astounding news. But it seems it was only these shepherds, keepers of boredom, silence and the vastness of space, who could hear the whispers of joy that most others did not.
You and I have had inklings of that song of joy through the years, fleetingly thought we saw a star different than the others, one that stirred our curiosity, invited us to journey outside of the things we already knew. But I suspect that we, like the shepherds have discovered that the signs of God at work are usually quite small, so very careful, slow and gentle. God at work is so easy to overlook, and we so easily distracted.
We want the big splash, the migthy acts that dazzle, overwhelm and define with utmost clarity and finality. Of course it isn’t that God is not able, nor that there aren’t spectactular, breakthrough moments when everything seems to have been made new and better, more bright and more shiny. But it is in those small, quiet, tender moments, where perhaps we can best see as the shepherds saw.
For days we have scrambled and scurried to get everything just right, brought out the best and loveliest of our finery, decked our halls and gussied ourselves up. The sanctuary is as lovely as ever with twinkling lights, and flowers and garlands. The coming of the Christ child into the world happens in such an unexpected, unanticipated moment, and we gather ourselves in this more formal, more colorful, more everything celebration because we struggle to understand that a mother delivering a child can be the portend of those mighty acts we hope our God will do for us. We want all the beautiful, ‘kicked up a notch’ ornamentation because that might help keep us awake to watch for a moment exquisitely fleeting that it is here and gone in an eyeblink.
Now the work is done. We are invited to stop. To listen. To look beyond the immediacy of the cares we may have brought tonight. And after we have cradled the body of Christ in our hands, all those beautiful hands of so many different sizes and shapes, each receiving Him gently into our lives, we will hush, and dim the lights to sing Silent Night together. For a brief moment we will be as alert and aware as the shepherds. Our voices will be the voices of angels in the darkness. We will allow ourselves to embrace the possibility that God made flesh would come and dwell with us here, and now. And thus, love is born again.
It is Christmas. Look up into the immensity of the sky for a star that beckons. Listen, listen—whispers of great joy dance and twirl through the firmament. The thin, reedy voice of a new born pierces the night.