Christmas pageants have been a part of my Christmas celebrations for almost as long as I can remember. I can’t recall much about the ones I participated in as a kid, but I do remember the costumes. I remember one year having to be a shepherd and not being at all happy about it. The church where I grew up was a tiny congregation with very few children, so there wasn’t the luxury of multiples. There couldn’t be a heavenly host if all the other roles were to be filled. So, one year I had to wear the yucky colored pillowcase-turned-shepherd’s-robe complete with ugly rope belt and I was NOT happy about it. I’m sure I pouted through the whole event that was supposed to be good news of great joy. But as far as I was concerned, it was impossible to be glorious when one had to wear formless fabric bereft of any glitter. Who wants to be a shepherd when being an angel is an option?
God has gifted me with children of my own, two of whom are daughters. One is, shall we say, particular about her clothing. One live nativity a number of years ago, while I was the pastor of a tiny church, this particular girl, who is particular about what she wears, was cast as a shepherd. Her sister was cast as an angel – tinsel halo, glittery wings and all. To say this did not go over well would be an understatement. As it turned out, on the night of the reenactment of good news of great joy to all the people, one of the shepherds was absent, left at home with the non-pastor parent. When asked by a concerned church member where said shepherd was I replied, “Well, because the devil, as far as we know, wasn’t in the stable, I left her home.” This family story demonstrates yet again that being a shepherd pales in comparison to being an angel.
Who would choose to be a shepherd? Their work is hard, and when it isn’t hard I would imagine it is boring. I don’t think the pay is very good and they aren’t highly esteemed. Their less-than-stylish wardrobe is the least of their job-related worries. But, at least for Luke, they are critical to the birth of Jesus and to the telling of his story. The Christmas pageant can’t happen without them. The Good News of great joy can be proclaimed by the heavenly host, but no one else will hear it without the shepherds making known what has been told them. When the Word becomes incarnate, God’s heavenly host heralds the Savior’s arrival, but earthly shepherds spread the story to the people for whom this is good news of great joy. The shepherds are the first evangelists. It is the wingless, haloless, plain, working shepherds who are cast in the role of evangelists.
It would be easier to be an angel, swoop down to earth, inadvertently terrify recipients of God’s message, reassure them to fear not, read with feeling the memo, sing a few glorias and head on back to the place where it is rejoicing and praising all day every day. And yet, the shepherds’ role is no less critical. They have to make known what has been made known to them. They go to Bethlehem and CONFIRM God’s Word, and then they go back and share it with whoever will listen. That is true for us, too.
We don’t get to pick our role in God’s grand story, but we do have one. We don’t get to swoop into the chaos and suffering and beauty of this world and then exit stage right. We are given God’s Word of good news of great joy and then we are to make haste and confirm it. If we do, we are then called to be evangelists, “to give an exact report” of what we have witnessed. “Give an exact report” that’s the translation for the Greek word found only in Luke 2:17. When the shepherds saw “this” – Mary and Joseph and the baby – they “gave an exact report” of what had been revealed to them about this child, and “all” who heard it were amazed. Not because the shepherds were educated, or eloquent, or respected, but because they were willing to go to Bethlehem and back, faithfully reporting all that they had seen and heard.
That’s our role, too. We are called to give an exact report of our experiences of Jesus. The world needs to hear what has been made known to us and we have to be bold to speak it to all who will listen. The world needs to know how we have experienced light in the midst of darkness, peace in the midst of chaos, healing, hope, reconciliation, transformation and salvation through the Messiah, the Lord. It doesn’t matter that we don’t have wings or a halo or heavenly hosts to back us up, through the power of the One who calls us, others will hear and be amazed and will be moved to praise and glorify God, too.