Post # 277
December 15, 2019
Candle of Joy and Love
The Shepherds Candle
Week Three – December 15, 2019
by Lynda McKinney Lambert
(Third in a series of five essays for Advent.)
Christians are on a four-week pilgrimage during Advent. Our trip has a specific beginning point and a designated place where we are going. Our Advent journey began when we lit the Candle of Hope on the first Sunday of Advent. One week later, we lit the Candle of Preparation, on December 8; Today, we continue on our pilgrimage as we light the third candle of Joy and Love on December 15, 2019.
We celebrate the Shepherds today!
Advent – Week 3
The Candle of Joy
The Shepherds Candle
What do I know of shepherds? Well, just about nothing!
I wrote the first essays, The Candles of Advent, in 2014.
I did not realize I opened the door to an abiding interest in Advent. It is now December 2019, and I am still fascinated with the shepherds that I first wrote about five years ago.
The Candle of Joy is also known as The Shepherds Candle. I kept thinking about the shepherds described in the Biblical accounts of the birth of Jesus. You can read all of the details by going to Luke 2 in the New Testament of the Holy Bible.
As all shepherds are, they were out in a field with their sheep at night. A shepherd dedicates his life to the safe-keeping of the flocks – day and night. I imagine they have encountered many terrors when scavenger or predator birds and animals come to steal the sheep or lay in wait to spring upon an innocent lamb. A shepherd would be a fearless protector of the sheep.
I thought about the contrast between two different types of people that God called to come and see the baby that was born in the cave. From the beginning of the Creation Story, we see that God loves to celebrate – he DANCES with JOY, and he SINGS over his creations.
Kings and shepherds – all sent to the same place.
The kings had to embark on a long journey, using the stars to guide them to the exact place where they found the little family.
The shepherds were in a nearby field. An angel appeared and told them something miraculous was taking place. They were told to go and witness it. What a contrast we have here when we realize who God chose to invite. Two entirely different classes of people.
Yet, upon further reflection, I can see that it is the qualities of the character of kings and shepherds that is significant. Those characteristics of nobility, humility, obedience, and nurturing are a fore shadow of the character of the redeemer.
I remembered how the shepherds were surprised by a visit from an angel who gave them the news of a unique birth of Messiah. The angel must have looked frightening to the shepherds because the angel told them, “Fear not!” The shepherds received instructions as to how they might find the little family located in a stable with animals that night. Think about this situation. The richest and the poorest – both are chosen to witness this birth.
If you read Luke 2, you will be amazed at what happened that night when the Angel appeared. I’ll let you find that for yourself – because it is fantastic. This was a spectacular event right there in the field – my mind cannot even grasp what it was like that night. What do you think?
One thought kept recurring to me as I researched, and I thought about this week’s activities surrounding the Birth of Jesus in the manger in Bethlehem. It came to me that the one thread connecting every character in this story is that each person was required to make an unexpected, unplanned trip from one place to another. Every single one! And, I also felt like there is underlying loneliness in this miraculous story – everyone had to give up something familiar and travel to an unfamiliar place to do uncommon things, with people who were strangers to them.
Travel – Journey – Go – Trip –
Excursion – Passage – Flight
History indicates that Mary and Joseph were both in their teens. Mary was fifteen and Joseph, only nineteen years old at the time of the birth.
In every circumstance in this story, an Angel appears to explain what God is doing. Also, in every situation, this is so frightening that the people have to be told that they do not need to fear the Angel.
Mary and Joseph left their home at a time when no pregnant girl would ever choose to be going anywhere on a trip by foot and by donkey on a mandatory trip. Everyone in the Roman world had to resport to their birth city to register for the census. (See this in Luke 1 for more detail).
They had no choice but departed, and Mary was close to the time that her baby would be born. What a remarkable young man, Joseph was to be with her despite the circumstances. I often wonder how the conversations were as they traveled – what did they talk about, and what were they thinking?
When I was nineteen, I gave birth to my first child. Eighteen months later, the second daughter was born. At age twenty-five, our third daughter was born. For all of those births, I was living in a comfortable home with my husband. I had a local doctor. The hospital was only one mile from our house. When the time came, my doctor delivered our daughters in our local hospital. I remember how frightening it was – every time – when the pains of labor were intense enough that I was bent over double, unable even to stand up straight. I knew it was time to leave for the hospital and give birth. OH, how did young Mary bear the long days of rugged travels when her body, heavy with her baby boy? How did Joseph respond to her needs?
Oh, Mary! My heart is sad when I think that you did not even have a warm bed or the comfort of your family or friends that night. Mary, you knew you were carrying God in your womb, but how you must have wondered “why” you had to be so far from home, lonely, and in such a filthy place as a barn.
I know that in art through the ages, in songs, and now, in contemporary depictions of the Nativity, we see Angels, the Holy Family, Shepherds, and Three Kings all there together with the animals. Yet, when I read the scriptures that record this event, what we see in the depictions of it are not at all accurate. The nostalgic Christmas card scene has been pieced together over the years into a fantasy world that never existed in that way. The centuries of lore have put together a very odd mixture of Christian history mingled with pagan practices, ideas, superstitions, and myths. And, then add to this mixture, the cultural and racial confusion that exists to add to the fantasy.
My testimony –
One evening in October 1997, I heard Him whisper to me, “Come away, my beloved!” I turned and walked towards Him, and as I walked, I remembered the words of Dietrich Bonheoffer,
“When Christ calls a man (woman), he bids him (her) to come and die.”
Like one of the shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem, I too became a shepherd who came to see, the infant who would one day be known as
“The Good Shepherd.” –
Lynda McKinney Lambert
There were only a very few worshippers around the manger in Bethlehem – just a handful of shepherds. Oh, yes, the Three Kings were on the way, most likely, but it would be quite a long time before they traveled the distance and bowed before the little boy.
Luke 2:7 sets the scene: “[Mary] gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger because there was no room for them in the inn.”
When I look at this account of the birth, I can feel the loneliness of a young girl who takes her newborn infant and wraps him in clothes and places him on the straw. No room for them anywhere, except for a shelter were animals take refuge from storms or the cold winter nights.
That verse is explicitly concerned with a lonely birth. There were no midwives, no assistance to Mary at all. The Bible doesn’t even mention that Joseph was present. Perhaps he was, but if he is typical of first-time, teenage fathers, he would have been of little assistance to Mary. She was basically on her own to figure out what to do.
Mary brought forth the child; she wrapped Him in swaddling clothes, and she laid Him in a manger. Where usually a midwife would clean the baby and clothe Him, there was no one. Mary did it herself. And where often there would have been a cradle or basket for the baby, there was none. Mary had to put Him in an animal’s feeding trough carved out of a rock.
When Christ entered the world, He came to a place that had some of the smelliest, filthiest, and most uncomfortable conditions. But that is part of the wonder of divine grace. When the Son of God came down from heaven, He came down. He did not hang on to His equality with God; instead, He set it aside for a time and completely humbled Himself (Philippians 2:5-8).
Luke 2:8-20 described the experience of the shepherds when Jesus was born. Think about that for a moment. Out of the whole of Jerusalem society, God picked a band of shepherds to hear the news of Jesus’ birth. That’s intriguing because shepherds were among the lowest and most despised social groups.
The very nature of shepherds’ work kept them from entering into the mainstream of Israel’s society. They couldn’t maintain the ceremonial washings and observe all the religious festivals and feasts. How fitting it is that the shepherds were the first to know of the Lamb of God. the sheep they were watching over might be the sheep sacrificed in the temple.
More significant, they came to see Him the night he was born. No one else did. Though the shepherds went back and told everyone what they had seen and heard, and though “all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds” (v. 18), not one other person came to see firsthand.
We are left to wonder when we search the historical scripture accounts – about the shepherds. We don’t think how they knew where to go. I imagine they just came into Bethlehem and began walking about, asking, “Do you know where a baby has been born tonight?” The important thing for us to know is that they came! They came because angels had visited them while they were taking care of their flocks at night. They had a visit from God, and they left their fields and followed the direction of the angels to find the baby. The shepherds became that night, the first Christian evangelists. They went out of the manger, and they told others what they had seen.
When I consider the symbolism of the shepherds, I can better understand Psalm 28. (NIV) and here is where I find the connection between “The Candle of Joy” and the journey of the shepherds.
I wish you a joyous journey to the Christ Child tonight, too.
My heart leaps for joy,
and with my song, I praise him.
8 The Lord is the strength of his people,
a fortress of salvation for his anointed one.
9 Save your people and bless Your inheritance;
be their shepherd and carry them forever.-
Lynda McKinney Lambert. December 2014. Revised December 12, 2019. Copyright. All Rights Reserved.