November 1, 2010

Nameless But Notable XII: Religious Tourism

In the birth narrative of Jesus we hear the story of the shepherds keeping watch over their flocks. Angels come down to the shepherds bearing "good news of great joy that will be for all the people". After scaring the living daylights out of them with their presence and delivering the Lord's message...

"When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about." Luke 2:15

So off they go with haste and find Mary and Joseph, and the baby Jesus lying in a manger. What makes this story interesting from a human perspective is that these shepherds walked away from their flock in the middle of the night. Did they leave the flocks to fend for themselves? We do not know but it is unusual for a shepherd to leave His flock in any situation. Except this one.

When they arrive they tell of the amazing message sent directly from heaven. Regular men with a blue-collar profession approached by the messengers of the Almighty God telling them of the wonder of the birth of the Savior. I guess I'd have left my flock too to see the Christ. The shepherds then do what would be the only thing proper for them to do in this situation. They "glorify and praise God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them". The odd thing? They return to their flocks before doing so. They literally leave the presence of God in human form (Jesus) and praise God back out in the fields.

These shepherds then dissolve into obscurity. So why do we mention them? They heard, they went to see and...we hear no mention of them being saved. We hear no mention of them being believers, only that they were approached by angels, that they saw the Savior and that they...left and went back to their flocks. They left! If they knew it was the Savior after having been told in such a traumatic manner do we not suppose there would've been a more profound reaction from them?

A Hypothetical Conversation:

Shepherd #1: "Lets go see!" So they go and find Mary and Joseph.
Shepherd #2: [After finding Jesus] "Okay that's neat, a Savior in a feed trough"
Shepherds #3-10: Mulling around staring at Jesus they tell the amazing story of the angels approaching them in the field.
Shepherd #2: "Okay, I'm done here, you guys done?"
Shepherds #1, 3-10: "Yeah, yeah we're done"
Shepherd #2: "Okay, no more to see here, lets go"

So they leave and arrive back at their flocks.

Shepherd #1: "That whole angel from God thing was pretty scary but the baby Jesus was neat. Yeah, neat. Let's worship and praise God for this wonder!"
All The others: "Shepherds: Yes, lets!"

...and they are never heard from again. They never re-enter the narrative. They praise Jesus as if he was another miracle from God after nearly a 400 years absence of God's presence in Israel and then they walk away? They could've played a huge role in the Gospels, and in the narrative of the Bible in general but instead they fade into history forgotten except by some Christians on Christmas and fans of Linus and the Charlie Brown Christmas Special.

This seems odd. It is almost as if by default, this story tells us of a squandered opportunity of faith. They are literally face to face with God in the form or the incarnate Jesus (albeit in diminutive form; an infant) and they choose to walk away and praise Him somewhere else. Odd indeed. It seems as if they half get it. There were others that had this opportunity in the Gospels and they literally walked away from their lives to follow Jesus (Matthew ring any bells?). Am I saying this is what the Bible tells us? No, I would never be that audacious and assuming but the fact that these shepherds do not stay and are then there is silence from their quarter in the Bible leaves one to wonder.

So what do we learn from this in our day? Having an intellectual knowledge of what we think God/Jesus/Savior is and the real deal may by slightly different. Knowing of God and knowing God are two different things. For twenty years I intellectually accented and acknowledged that God existed. Heck, I even believed Jesus was real and the Son of God but it wasn't until I began to have a relationship with Him that my life truly began to shift in a massive scale. Mountains started to move. As you can imagine when they began to move I didn't notice at first. When large things begin to move or happen it is hard to discern the movement because they are so huge. Once they move enough though...look out! Your only reaction in those situations can be WHOA! If I gave my testimony over the last 3 years you would be astounded. You cannot have a true encounter or relationship with the Living God and still walk away passe and unchanged. If you did walk way perhaps you should check yourself at the door to make sure you are still in the faith?

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