We know the story: an angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds. The glory of the Lord shone around them. A great light descends on dark fields, happy angels and cherubim sing for joy, play their lutes, and dance about to defy the gravity of earthly cares.
In our happy Christmas narratives, we can forget the shepherds were afraid.
What is this fear of God? In my Sunday School lessons, God was a warm fuzzy old man, replete with grey beard, Jesus loved me (because the Bible told me so) and I glued cotton balls on stiff construction paper to make sheep for the good shepherd.
As a small child, I secretly opened the Bible. And I read. It didn’t take long to find God and fear mingled together in the same lines. I didn’t understand but I knew it wasn’t about fluffy lambs or grandfatherly gods.
In the Hebrew scriptures, the “Fear of God” is an active obedience to the divine will. But I think it’s also a shaking a shaking of body and soul awe at something wholly other, something catches, my heartbeat quickens, and I shake, even a little, at the thought of those strange glimpses that brought me to my knees
The numinous is a mystery that terrifies and fascinates.
We are tempted to reduce the whole of the Christmas story to a kinder, gentler God, somewhat akin to the jolly and portly fellow in the red suit, we wrap our seasonal theology neatly with a red bow.
But what we have here are terrifying and fascinating dreams and apparitions.
Enough to make you lay down your work and follow your vision.
That’s what the shepherds did. They ran from that place in search of the strange, the holy
What star are we waiting for to lay down our labors and follow a vision? A strange vision? A frightening glory? Peculiar and unfamiliar fancies that we would risk losing the labors of our day to a brilliant, crazed moment in the night?
Could we hear the bizarre voices at all? Or are we too busy tending our sheep to see the hand of God in the strange turns of our lives?
The shepherds ran, ran, leaving their sheep and the one they ran to would tell the fishermen to lay down their nets, leave their fish, run, run to be fishers of men and women and dreams.
For a moment follow the dream, the hope despite your shaking.
Receive the annual invitation, face the awesome vision, lay down your labors, abandon all reason for now, once again, God is with us, and we can risk our daytime sensibilities for strange dreams and fearful fascinations. Run across the muddy, cold fields.
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Last updated on Tuesday, January 7, 2014.
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