The Problematic Intervention of the Shepherds That First Christmas Night
How do you think Mary felt to have other people invite other people to peek in on her family right after she gave birth?
Luke 2 says: 15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
I wonder what it would have been like for Mary and Joseph, but especially Mary, to have some random dudes show up, soon after she had given birth to Jesus, just to pop in for a visit. I know my wife would not have been the most receptive after the birth of our first son to have people show up unannounced wanting to see the baby. But, perhaps in that culture, it wasn’t as big of a deal.
Think with me: a young girl, who isn’t officially married, just has a baby, and soon after a crowd of strange guys show up saying they were invited to stop in and see the baby. It’s a bunch of guys, not empathetic mothers wanting to hold the baby and give mothering advice. Most guys I know want to be as far away from that situation as possible. Most women would have demanded to know who thought they had the authority to make that kind of an invitation. Who would have known in the first place? It’s not like Mary was a celebrity having the Paparazzi following her around. Maybe someone knew she wasn’t married and wanted to bring shame and attention to her delicate situation, someone who had seen them when they registered in Bethlehem and happened to be spying on them, knowing she could have that baby any day?
Oh, God made the invitation. I’m not sure if I were Mary, that this would have been the most comforting of messages right at that moment. She’s tired from the trip, she’s just had a baby, an experience she’s never had before, and she has to figure out how to care for this new child. Now, she’s feeling crowded and that God believes it’s ok to put her family and her life on display. Did Joseph have to set some ground rules for all of this when the shepherds showed up unannounced?
It’s interesting to contemplate what’s not in the narrative. When we get together to celebrate the birth of Jesus, we celebrate from a perspective of what it means for us. But we forget that there were a lot more people involved, in real-world, painful, frightening, situations, than just Jesus Himself. This was all very new to Mary and probably to Joseph as well. We can tend to skip over the impact it had on a very vulnerable Mary and Joseph because of the power in which the message was brought to the shepherds and the impact Jesus’ birth would have on humanity. We move on to the why wouldn’t it be ok for everyone to celebrate with Mary and Joseph the birth of the Savior of the World?
When Scripture says that Mary pondered these things in her heart, might that have been a nice way of saying Mary had a deep conversation with God as she wrestled with all of this? We usually get the idea that everything was all good between Mary, Joseph, and the shepherds, but was it? Was she playing nice, just waiting for them to leave? I don’t think we should be surprised if that were a little more of the way it happened, even if it was internal? Might Mary have been a little frustrated with God for allowing people to show up so quickly?
I think it speaks to the character of Mary and Joseph, that God would announce so soon and allow unfamiliar people to share in that most delicate of times. It was Good News, and Mary and Joseph would come to understand that more fully as Jesus grew up. We have no way of knowing the emotional battle that Mary was facing that night and what she thought about shepherds invading her privacy. But, she had been chosen by God for something great, and so privacy was not always going to be a luxury she could enjoy. Her faith, from God’s eyes, would seem to say that she could accept an oftentimes more public role in God’s Kingdom. She would have to share certain moments with the world, whether she was ready for it every time or not.
No matter how frustrated or gentle Mary was internally that first night of a new era for our world, God had her and her family in His grace. He would not have brought people who would seek to harm the child close enough where something unthinkable could have happened. Perhaps Mary was secure in knowing that, as the Son of God, there was a greater plan for how the message would be spread. But, as Scripture would lead us to believe, the message was pretty localized because it hadn’t reached the ears of Herod. Their family would need some anonymity in order for Jesus to grow and strengthen Himself for what was to come. It’s amazing how humble and inconspicuous Jesus was throughout His formative years, because in today’s world, you’d think that a sinless life and a growth trajectory He was on would not go unnoticed.
So, as you read and reread the Christmas Story during this time of year, don’t be so quick to think of it in terms of what you can get out of Jesus’ birth, but think through the life situations Mary and Joseph went through. Think through the back story, the stuff that’s there but isn’t there as you read. Don’t remove the real-world emotions, struggles, and sins of those closest to Jesus. They would need forgiveness from the moments when they questioned what God was up to in His plans and the moments of hostility they might have had when things went very badly and there was nothing they could do except rely on God. We all have those struggles when we’re not in control. But, God helps us all overcome, in the name of Jesus.
I hope your interaction with the great story of redemption’s intervention into our world is a little bit heightened. Amen.