It’s Advent, which means that it’s a time for thinking through the amazing gift God gave through Jesus. About the coming of the King that we have both experienced and hope for. We are joyful, yet solemn as we ponder the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life.
I have always, for some reason, focused on the Shepherds in Luke’s account. After all the bombast, tension, and drama of the announcement of the birth, Caesar’s outlandish (to us) demand, and the cathartic sigh of relief as the child is born; we find ourselves face to face with the 1st century equivalent of a migrant worker. Shepherds had a stigma around them, of being smelly, unclean, and unfit for civilized society. They were asked, maybe not so politely, to make sure they stayed outside town with their sheep unless needed. Migrant workers today are paid little, work like crazy, and are still stigmatized as being a problem for modern society.
I wonder if Jesus thought about those shepherds who came to visit his family when he scanned the crowd before he began his famous Sermon on the Mount which begins in Matthew 5. As he scans the crowd, he notices faces that are hopeful, yet realistic in their expectations of whether or not this new teacher would except them. He had healed many but would he present them with something more than standing outside the Temple, with something better than the label of “sinner”, with something freer than the Roman oppression, or greater still the oppression of sin and death?
I imagine Jesus making eye contact with people whose stories he had heard from their own mouths as he began, “Blessed are the poor in spirit[…] the mourners[…] the meek[…] people who hunger and thirst for God’s justice[…] the merciful[…] the pure in heart[…] the peacemakers[…]!” Suddenly, those “outside the fold” were welcomed into a group, a family, and in a way, the Temple itself. Jesus, the place where heaven and earth meet that the temple could only foreshadow, was welcoming all who heard him into the Kingdom, into the presence of God. Did he promise an easy journey or that they would remain the same? No. Jesus showed clearly in the teachings that follow this welcome that the Kingdom requires all who enter to undergo radical change, above and against the wisdom of the world.
What would the beatitudes (Matthew 5.1-12) look like if after every “Blessed are” you put a person or group you disagreed with or disliked? What would they look like if you were honest and put those you despised and feared in them? How much would your outlook change if instead of seeing others as outsiders, as enemies, you saw them as having received the same welcome from Jesus that you received?
How do you answer the cliffhanger at the end of the Prodigal Son parable (Luke 15:11-32)? Does the older son come in and celebrate with the father, or sulk outside and refuse to welcome his younger brother? We have a choice every day to celebrate with God, to welcome into His Kingdom, or to sulk outside in the cold and the rain.
So what do you choose during this season of generosity and hope and joy? Do you choose welcome, hospitality, and the giving and receiving of forgiveness, or a cold, bitter, sulk outside?
Photo Credit: Shepherds’ Field | by Seetheholyland.net via Flickr