In my experience there is something both ordinary and profound in the way that people close to the land live daily. Farmers and shepherds know the patience needed to tend the land or animals, knowing that they cannot control many of the factors they depend on—the sun or rain, the predators or growth. They have endurance and perseverance in the face of uncertainties and also have capacity to see beauty in the world around them in the most ordinary moments.
Some years ago I tried to encourage a very small congregation—which needed lay leaders to step up to lead worship—that each of them had the capacity to speak about their experience of God to others. I asked them to name a moment of encounter with God in their lives. One after another struggled to find the words except a taciturn farmer at the end of the table. In a few spare sentences he described a moment of encounter with the glory of God in nature as he stood at the fence of his fields—a moment both ordinary and profound.
Imagine the shepherds on the night of the birth of Jesus, tending the flocks as they have always done. Sitting or dozing under the stars, they keep one ear tuned for the wolf or thief and the other listening to the sounds of the flock at night. Was it the brilliance of the night sky? A song humming on the wind? Whatever it was that drew their attention, in that moment they took notice, and the night sky was filled with the song of the angels inviting them to seek the reason for this moment.
They leave their flocks to search, and find it in a baby. An ordinary night turned glorious and powerful enough to send the shepherds to seek the child, becomes infinitely ordinary and vulnerable again when they arrive at the manger. The feeding area for animals, such as they daily tended, holds just a baby—a wriggling, noisy baby boy watched by a young mother and father, nervous and new to their role as parents. And God is here.
This very ordinary moment contains the extraordinary promise of God. This child will carry the message of God’s love to any and all who will hear. He will become a shepherd to his people and change the world. For now, these shepherds simply enjoy the miracle of a new baby, the joy of his parents, and this moment of promise. Then they leave to tell the story and become the first evangelists of this part of the Good News that they have seen.
We now retell their story as a miraculous event with delight and awe. Yet every part is rooted in the activities of daily life of ordinary people open to the extraordinary possibilities of God at work around them.
God is always present. The possibilities of participating in God’s creating activity in the world are only limited by our willingness to see God in our daily lives, inviting us to see—to wonder—and to tell the Good News we know. May this Christmas be a celebration of God in the midst of our lives here and now—filled with possibilities when we look and see God at work around us and are ready to hear the angels singing.