Shepherds: Shock and Awe

The prophet Isaiah foretold that Messiah would be called:  Prince of Peace.  Jesus – the Prince of Prince.

Peace, not as the absence of conflict, but a deep and abiding authority over chaos and presence of justice.  In a world filled with war and conflict, it is almost impossible to imagine peace.  Peace is a stark and opposite change from the daily lives of most people.  This promise seems out of reach, but God’s promise for a Messiah is fulfilled in Jesus.

The first to hear this good news were the shepherds.  To say that they experienced “shock and awe” is probably generous.  We live in a world so shaped by military might that our colloquial language has been infiltrated.  The term “shock and awe” was developed as a military doctrine in 1996 by the Naval Defense University.  The Shock and Awe campaign used in the Gulf Wars is to make a revolutionary change in the location that the military was located.  Shock and awe is intended to change in irreversible ways the lives of those who were impacted by the conflict.

While there is much of military doctrine and strategy that does not connect with the radical nature of the incarnational gospel of Jesus Christ, this does:  revolutionary change intended to impact lives in irreversible ways.  This revolutionary news would change the lives of shepherds forever.  Sometimes, a familiar story gets lost to us in the telling.  A colleague of mine, Rev. Andrea Brown, penned this modern retelling.  Listen afresh to this modern retelling:

 “Now, there were some laid-off auto workers who were up late, working as bouncers outside a local bar. And a messenger of the Lord stood before them; they could feel the presence of the Lord all around this person. They were terrified! But this messenger said to them: “Don’t be afraid. Just listen: I’m bringing you good news of great joy in which all people will share. Today, your Rescuer is born in the city of David. This baby is the Leader—capital L—the one we’ve all been waiting for. And, here’s how you’ll recognize him: You will find him swaddled in a blanket and lying in a cardboard box.

And suddenly, there was, along with that messenger, a whole, unearthly flash mob, praising God in song and dance, saying: “Glory to God in the highest. And on Earth, peace to all people: For humanity is God’s delight!”

When the messengers went away from them into the sky, the ex-auto workers said to one another: “Let’s go see what has happened—this news that the dancers told us.”

So, they went quickly, and what they found was Mary and Joseph, with their child lying in a cardboard box! Seeing this, they blurted out the amazing story of what had been told to them about this little one. The autoworkers returned home, talking enthusiastically about God and telling everyone in their neighborhood what they had seen—which matched what the flash mob had told them.”

Can’t you just imagine it now?  Out of work, autoworkers and flash mobs in Flint, Michigan or Toledo, Ohio?  When we hear the nativity story, when we put up the creche, shepherds broadly, are the characters to whom we relate.  They are also the members of the Nativity that artists feel the most liberty in casting in their own image.  We see ourselves as those who have been oppressed and despised. We can tell stories of how rough it has been for us.

Shepherds of the day certainly were.  They were of a low class, working hard in the fields.  They were the lowly and the hungry that Mary sang of in her Magnificat a mere few verses earlier.  The good news comes to the poor and the despised throughout Jesus’ ministry, from his birth through his life and unto his death and resurrection.  Let those who have ears hear. [1] The good news to the poor, recovery of sight to the blind, letting the oppressed go free foreshadows the ministry of Jesus.[2]

Archbishop Oscar Romero in his Christmas Eve homily in 1978 said,
“No one can celebrate a genuine Christmas without being truly poor. The self-sufficient, the proud, those who, because they have everything, look down on others, those who have no need of God – for them there will be no Christmas. Only the poor, the hungry, those who need someone to come on their behalf, will have that someone. That someone is God, Emmanuel, God-with-us. Without poverty of spirit, there can be no abundance of God.”  We need those shepherd moments with that compassion and empathy for both the poor and the poor in spirit, to long for Emmanuel.

After the shock, the shepherds were in compete awe.  Their lives were changed.  This was not another day at the office.  They did not phone this in.  The lives of the shepherds changed forever.  The shock and awe of the announcement of the angels, the presence of the Christ child, irreversibly changed their lives.   No longer were they alone.  No longer were they traveling and fighting life’s challenges by themselves.  God with us means God with me as well as God with you.

This is how it was for the shepherds and how it is for us today.  One who comes with every loss, who crosses every border, traverses deserts, rows oceans in rubber rafts, enters broken hearts, and gathers us up when the world is shattered and broken. There is One who comes to offer healing, redemption, wholeness, and salvation in this time. As we hold this One, healing, restoration and new life are being breathed into the world. Emmanuel, God with us, Jesus is born.

This is good news.  The best present!

Thanks be to God, Amen.

(1) The First Christmas by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan

(2) Luke 4.






[1] The First Christmas by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan

[2] Luke 4.