As we journey through the often too familiar annual Christmas experience, I was reminded how much of the story we assume from tradition, television specials, Christmas cards, and carols. I took and shared a Christmas quiz with many of my friends, colleagues, and family only to discover how little we really know about the Biblically recorded Christmas story. There were 21 multiple-choice questions and most scored in the low teens and even into single digits. There is so much we assume.
Because the story unfolds in the pages of the Bible within moments of one another and upon the same page or with the simple flip of a page, we can easily forget the passage of time that the actual characters experience. As we were studying the Christmas story in my small group this holiday season, I raised the question of why did God uniquely choose His angels to inform of all people dirty, smelly, rural sheepherders to be the first to celebrate the birth of Jesus with His parents. Past the obvious of further expressions of Christ’s humility and God’s invitation to the outcast and peripheral, it occurred to me how much time had passed with no real communication from God. The last time Mary and Joseph had heard from God either through a real live angel appearance or simply an angel in a dream had been nine months. And I can’t but think there would have been more than a few times that question would have a rose for them. I’m sure Mary may not have been keen on the idea of a trip to Bethlehem from Nazareth, away from all familiar family and friends, in her last few weeks of pregnancy. They may have wondered about God’s plan when in spite of all of God’s eternal planning through prophesy and angelic visions and unexplained pregnancies that when they arrive in Bethlehem, God had failed to reserve them a room.
So when Jesus was born a normal, healthy Jewish boy but without the often depicted halo, I wonder if they began to wonder about God’s special plan? So that when in that very evening the shepherds arrived telling them of angelic visions and choruses of praise Jesus’ parents needed that word of affirmation. The scriptures state that “Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19)
As often as I need affirmation, it’s good to know God supplies it, even if it is from smelly sheepherders.