Reflection for Sunday – January 1, 2023

Readings: Numbers 6:22-27; Galatians 4: 4-7; Luke 2: 16-21 
Preacher: Susan Howard

A dear friend sent me a Christmas gift a few weeks early. She’s very organized and thoughtful like that, worried about slow mail and lost gifts, but it arrived safely and I put it under the tree to wait until Christmas.

So with eager expectation now at its peak I opened the gift on Christmas morning. It was such a welcomed surprise, a gift I didn’t even know I needed or wanted— the poem, now in book form of  “ The Hill We Climb” by Amanda Gorman. You may remember when she recited this poem at President Joe Biden’s inauguration—not only recited, but proclaimed! It was and is such welcome inspiration from such a young poet. She proclaimed with a heart and soul full of hope for our nation and the world:

“We’ve braved the belly of the beast.
We’ve learned that quiet isn’t always peace,
and the norms and notions of what ‘just is’
isn’t always justice.

And yet the dawn is ours before we knew it.
Somehow we do it.
Somehow, we’ve weathered and witnessed
A nation that isn’t broken, but simply finished.”

Of course she was referring to the four years of turmoil we had just endured from the political climate, a world wide pandemic, along with social, racial and economic upheaval. A world not much different from the one our savior was born into, full of strife, poverty, division and political wrangling.

Ms. Gorman’s words of hope and encouragement were a balm to our weary souls. Much like I imagine the words of the Angel were to the shepherd’s in today’s reading from the Gospel of Luke. Not that they were necessarily looking for a sign, they were busy about their daily task, protecting the sheep from wild animals, finding good grazing grounds and suitable water for the flocks to drink. They were probably just getting the flock corralled and bedded down for the night, themselves tired from a day trekking about the countryside. When out of the blue their lives were interrupted and changed forever.

What startling news from a startling source! God’s messenger speaking to them (not just one, but many witnesses) about the birthing, not just of a baby but of a breath of new life for all humankind!

The presence of the shepherds in the Nativity narrative is noteworthy.  They harken us back to the first shepherd in the Bible—Adam’s son Abel, blending this story with that of creation. They also represent all age groups and genders: some were young (David), some older (Moses and Abraham), and some were women (Rachel and the seven daughters of the priest of Midian). Shepherds were familiar with animal husbandry, the ways of survival in the natural world, and responsible 24/7 for their family’s most cherished possession and livelihood. As such they fulfill the image put forth by Isaiah of Jesus as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his friends.

Shepherds were not outcasts although they may have lived on the outside of town. They may have smelled like their sheep, but so does every farmer in every land and nation around the world. The smell of hard work and toil for the survival of one’s family is not to be shamed but endured with respect. As such we can think of the shepherd as “everyman” or “everywoman”—regular folks like you and me. It was to the shepherds that the good news was first heralded. News that shook them out of their daily routine and impelled them to seek out the source of this great promise.

You and I, like the shepherds, may be the ones chosen to share that Good News with others.

Mary herself had received messages from God that totally changed her life and reversed the dire circumstances she found herself in. Yes, the word of God from angelic messengers or from Jesus himself can release the power of God’s love to bring about a peaceful resolution to each situation, release us from our burdens, and shepherd us through the bad times.  Mary carried these words of promise with her all the way to the cross and beyond. With Mary, the Mother of God, let us ponder on these things in our hearts and trust that God has a plan for each of us that is right and just.

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

Happy New Year to one and all!

Sue Howard
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