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Advent: Joy

Published on Vineyard Canada on December 11, 2020.

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes,

but in having new eyes."

-Marcel Proust

Though we may pray and hope and plead and beg, none of us can escape the hard things in life. Death, sickness, injuries, pain, loss - these things have a way of finding us all .And hasn't 2020 confirmed this; life can be awfully hard.

But thankfully, there is always more than one dynamic at play. Amidst the pain, there is always joy to be found. Several advents ago, after a particularly hard season for my family, we spoke with our kids about how sometimes joy seems to shout at you. At other times, it is more like a game of hide and seek; you have to really look for it.

And let's face it, sometimes joy requires a full fledged, no-holds barred scavenger hunt.

8 That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby,guarding their flocks of sheep.9 Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them,and the radiance of the Lord's glory surrounded them.They were terrified,10 but the angel reassured them. "Don't be afraid!" he said."I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem,the city of David!12 And you will recognize him by this sign:You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth,lying in a manger."

Luke 2:8-12

I love this story of the shepherds.

Living amongst the animals, with the flies, disease, bacteria. Walking through their excrement, caring for their wounds. Being a shepherd was a dirty job in a culture where religious cleanliness was highly important. The dirtiness of the lifestyle left them as outsiders. Cut off from temple worship and community gatherings because of their unclean state.

Though our nativity scenes often depict these shepherds as grown men, in actuality the job was often given to the youngest boys (and sometimes girls) in the household.

That Luke documents the first proclamation of the birth of Jesus - an angelic proclamation no less - as being proclaimed to these unclean children was remarkable. This news was not announced to kings, but to young night shift shepherds. Not announced in palaces, but in an unremarkable rural field, to young children and their flea covered animals. God chose to declare the extraordinary news to ordinary people. From the moment of Christ's birth, God is privileging the outliers.

On this unexpected night, in a remote and ordinary location, an angel appears to proclaim the good news. The good news of great joy for all people.

How did the shepherds respond?

We read that they hurried, made haste, ran. They embarked on a once-in-a-lifetime, life-will-never-be-the-same-again journey to find a child lying in a manger. A hunt of all hunts to find the great joy they had been promised.

Allow yourself to imagine this scene in your mind. A group of young shepherds, ceremonially unclean, pungent with the odour of sheep, running through town at night, on a mission - somewhat like a scavenger hunt. Cutting through properties, jumping fences, hunting through an over-packed village, pushing into homes and waking up everyone in sight. Rubbing their unclean shoulders past who knows how many people while following the clues they had been given: to find a newly born baby, somewhere in Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.

How many people did they wake up that evening, looking for a baby? How many people heard them testify* about angels and a new Messiah? Can you imagine oil lamps and torches being lit around town? How many people were angered by the interruption by these unreliable, unclean children? How many people got excited by the possibility? The long awaited Messiah - born in Bethlehem? Did anyone join the search party?

Luke doesn't unwrap any of these details - we can only imagine.

But what we do know is that the shepherds do find Jesus. They find their great joy. In an unexpected place, on an unexpected night, after an unexpected hunt.

And I believe the same is true for us, today.

No matter the bleakness of our circumstance, joy can be found.

May we have eyes to receive it.

———-*Shepherds were viewed as unreliable, and were not allowed to testify in courts.

Image: Adoration of the Shepherds by Christian Wilhelm Ernst Dietrich

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