Reflecting on Advent, Day 1: A Guest Post by Paula Gamble-Grant

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1416614766160One of my Advent “making room” disciplines has been to carve out some writing time. Yesterday, this is what popped out…thanks for sharing the journey and challenging my own ways of walking with and toward the Savior with you all!

1 December 2104

On a chilly Sunday evening, in a candle lit room, with fire ablaze, we stood with friends to kick off the Advent season. A partial Nativity set was on the mantle, but the “characters” were all in various parts of the living room. Throughout the season, they’d slowly make their way to Bethlehem to mimic the many journeys that Mary, Joseph, the Magi and Shepherds would take toward this momentous, historical night.

We joined together to light the Sabbath candles, to sing a simple carol, to listen to the Scriptures read, and to light the first candle of “hope” as we considered the birth of infant Jesus. And then we participated in sharing the bread and the cup – beautiful symbols of the hope given in the body and blood of the grown-up Jesus.

Tony, ever thoughtful, passionate and rather eloquent even when just speculating, reflected on “hope.” Moisture formed in the corner of his eye and a catch in his throat made him momentarily pause. A sacredness filled the air as he spoke, and paused, in recounting the parts of the Christmas story that give him hope. He was like a Psalmist – declaring his wonderment, his doubts and fears while all the while giving space for Selah (a pause to gently consider what is being declared).

And he was so deeply touched by the inclusion of the shepherds in this story. Deeply touched that of all the people that could have been involved in the birth narrative of Jesus, Luke chose to include a segment of society that was disreputable. And in that culture and time, neither were they allowed to testify as a witness in a court of law, nor were they considered full citizens. Shepherds, perhaps often said with a contemptuous eyeroll and with great disdain, were the least likely to be chosen to attend the most grand event in the history of humankind! And these are the ones to whom the angelic choir chose to declare the “good news of great joy for ALL humankind!” How appropriate that the story itself doesn’t merely speak words of inclusion but actually included these outsiders.

As seems true with God, he sometimes picks the foolish things of the world to prove his wisdom and that His ways are not ours. And as also seems true, God often does the opposite of what we would expect! The angels do NOT go to the city or religious authorities. The Messiah does NOT show up as a powerful King riding in on a white horse to save the Jews from Roman oppression. And here’s where the catch in Tony’s throat came: today’s equivalent shepherds would be the marginalized – the homeless (or as Tony calls them, my “outside-dwelling-neighbors”), or welfare recipients, immigrants or perhaps even the used car salesmen or TV preachers from whom you and I have learned to pull our purses/wallets more closely to our sides when we’re in their presence. The shepherds were given the glimpse of the heavenly chorus. They had the front row seats at God becoming flesh. They didn’t cast off the angelic instruction…but went quickly to find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes.

And here’s what I love most about the Shepherds – their response! In Eugene Peterson’s translation he writes it this way: “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” 1 In childlike wonder, they lean into the mystery! They could have made one hundred excuses: “We’re busy; no one would believe us because we’re worthless scum; why would God talk to us when the religious leaders pass us by and treat us with contempt?” But they longed to experience what God had revealed…and when they did, it not only transformed them, but all those who listened to their story – including those of us who hear their story today. And in that I sense an invitation to mimic their childlike wonder and faith…and to perhaps open my heart in a new way to welcome those whom I tend to discount.

1 Eugene H. Peterson, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2005), Lk 2:15.

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