The element of surprise

Published 10:00 pm Wednesday, December 14, 2016

I’ve been thinking anew about the Christmas story and the thing that strikes me is the element of surprise in it. It runs throughout the narratives (Matthew 1:18-25; Luke 1:26-55, 2:1-20). It’s always been there, it’s just that for some reason it has arrested my attention this year. And the element of surprise for me focuses on the humble shepherds of Bethlehem.

These shepherds are just going about the business of shepherding their flocks with no thought of what is about to happen. Suddenly the heavens open up and an angel appears scaring them out of their wits. Telling them they have nothing to fear from him, they regain their composure and receive the announcement of Jesus’ birth.  They are told where to find Him and how they will recognize Him when they do.

Now as you may know, shepherds were not well regarded by the very pious folk of the day. They were considered derelict in their religious practice. Their vocation made it impossible for shepherds to be diligent in such matters.

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However, there is the possibility if not the probability that these were not your ordinary run of the mill shepherds but those who tended the temple flocks from which the sacrificial lambs were chosen. “It is a lovely thought that those who tended the temple lambs were the first to see the Lamb of God” (William Barclay).

Furthermore, one would think that the prestigious religious leaders, perhaps the Sanhedrin (the ruling council of the Jews), and Jerusalem, the holy city, not humble shepherds out in the Judean countryside would have had the angelic visitations and received the announcement of the Savior’s birth. But therein is the element of surprise.

Perhaps you or I will be surprised by God in some way this Christmas. It is possible you know, so could be. Could be indeed!