December 11, 2010
Today is the last day of the 2nd week of Advent, the last day marked by the "Shepherd's" candle in the Advent wreath. We've considered the idea of Dreaming this week-what the nation of Israel might have been dreaming the Messiah would bring, what we might be dreaming today, and how we might be a part of making dreams come true.
Before we leave the theme, I want to consider shepherds one last time. The shepherds are the ones who work for the common good, who do the heavy lifting when it needs doing, and are often in the background, unremarked and unthanked. On the hillsides outside a small town long ago, they waited in the darkness, but God did not forget them.
Many unremarkable people have been important to the unfolding of God's story. We would not even know of their existence but for the fact that God did not forget them.
Prayer: "God of Shepherds, as I consider the hastening of Christ's birth, let me be open to see the shepherds around me. Amen."
1 Samuel 2
1 Then Hannah prayed and said:
"My heart rejoices in the LORD;
in the LORD my horn[a] is lifted high.
My mouth boasts over my enemies,
for I delight in your deliverance.
2 "There is no one holy like the LORD;
there is no one besides you;
there is no Rock like our God.
3 "Do not keep talking so proudly
or let your mouth speak such arrogance,
for the LORD is a God who knows,
and by him deeds are weighed.
4 "The bows of the warriors are broken,
but those who stumbled are armed with strength.
5 Those who were full hire themselves out for food,
but those who were hungry are hungry no more.
She who was barren has borne seven children,
but she who has had many sons pines away.
6 "The LORD brings death and makes alive;
he brings down to the grave and raises up.
7 The LORD sends poverty and wealth;
he humbles and he exalts.
8 He raises the poor from the dust
and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes
and has them inherit a throne of honor.
"For the foundations of the earth are the LORD's;
on them he has set the world.
Hannah was one of many unremarkable people whom God did not forget. She was a barren woman who ended up the mother of Samuel, one of the most remarkable characters in God's story. Her hymn of praise and thanks foreshadows that of another unremarkable person, Mary, mother of Jesus. But that can wait. We were talking about shepherds.
Something I noticed when Dan and I stayed with friends up in Mendocino and attended the sheepdog championship was how contrary the sheep could be. The dog and shepherd are timed as they attempt to herd three sheep from one end of the stadium to the other and back, through a number of obstacles. Most of the sheep seem uncooperative at best and just damned wrong-headed at worst.
This all makes shepherding seem like a tough job. But really, don't we encounter people every day in our lives who get the sheep through the gates, patiently keep them all within the flock where they belong, and make sure they're bedded down at night? Don't we know people who get up at the same time every morning, catch their bus or fight the traffic to the office, or pad out to the kitchen in bare feet to make breakfast? Don't we often see the same toll booth operator at the same mundane job, or the barista who knows what kind of latte we want before we even ask? The unremarkable people who make our world run right are those shepherds.
They're in my family, and yours. The father who goes off to work every day to provide for his family. The older sister who babysits the younger kids while mom's at work. The uncle who stops by every time it snows, to shovel the walk. The son who helps with the housework.
Most of the time the deeds of these shepherds go unremarked, but as Hannah said,
"for the LORD is a God who knows,
and by him deeds are weighed. "
As you pray, think of the shepherds in your life, knowing that they are not forgotten by God and lift them up. I think God might be pleased to know that you haven't forgotten them either.
Prayer: "For those you have sent into my life, God, I give thanks for the blessings brought, and as you brought a son to Hannah, you are bringing a Son to the world. Amen."
Further readings for today:
Psalm 146: 5-10