Glory to God, peace on earth, goodwill to all…

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When describing an encounter with the glory of God, the taciturn farmer struggled the least. Photo: Ysbrand Cosijn/Shutterstock
Photo: Anglican Church of Canada/Milos Tosic

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.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Nice and lets stress that the bible makes it clear that we are referring to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Mankind’s only hope for salvation.

  2. Thanks for the refelctions. As a farmer with only four cows and a calf, I find that sitting in the tiny barn while they masticate, belch, and chew cud is something that enables me to be aware of many things: especially what might be termed the pulse of creation. (I suppose traffic is part of that pulse, too, but I somehow find it masks a deeper reality.)
    Farmers who have high degrees of technological work-savers–with all the sounds of milking machines, compressors, etc., and those mercury-vapour lights–may be missing something.

    Some years ago, my neighbor–a full-time dairy farmer–was getting his cows in for milking at about 5:30 a.m. in mid-winter when he noticed that the northern lights had not simply “pulsed” but formed a dome, from the four corners of the earth, as it were. I happened to be awake and outdoors one mile away and saw the same thing. Later, we both somewhat hesitantly mentioned that thoughts about “second coming” flashed through our minds. In retrospect, I think perhaps we experienced the reality of the presence of God already here.

    P.S.: A nearby small city (6,000 pop.) and various farms in the area now have lightened the night sky so that fewer stars can be seen, but nothing like when we lived near Vancouver.
    P.S.S.: Re: “manger. The feeding area for animals, such as they daily tended”. Almost certainly, the sheep were NOT brought into the stable to be fed at a manger.

  3. Indeed, God is always present; it is we who so often go missing, as Augustine said.
    Thank you for reminding us of this, at this time.

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