Reflection for Christmas I 27th December 2020

Submitted by Dean on Sat, 26/12/2020 - 12:01

Christmas I 27th December 2020 Year B

After the very bright light,
And the talking bird,
And the singing,
And the sky filled up wi’ wings, And then the silence,

Our lads sez
‘We’d better go, then
Stay, Shep. Good dog, stay.’ So I stayed wi’ t’ sheep

After they cum back,
It sounded grand, what they’d seen: Camels, and kings, and such,
Wi’ presents – human sort,
Not the kind you eat –

And a baby. Presents wes for him. Our lads took a lamb.

I had to stay behind wi’ sheep.
Pity they didn’t tek me along, too. I’m good wi’ sheep,
And the baby might have liked a dog After all that myrrh and such.

                                                                                  ‘The Sheepdog’ by UA Fanthorpe.

UA Fanthorpe is one of my favourite poets and especially for this time of the year. Her Christmas and festive poems seem to sum up what Christmas is all about in just a few words and to say it better than any sermon I could write – but you are still getting a sermon because this is too exciting a time of the year for me not to share my excitement and hopes with you.

Today’s readings are relatively short and they are all hopeful. The first few verses from Isaiah 61 and especially verse 11 are words of great hope:

“11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots,
 and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.”

These words were originally written to give the Hebrews hope in their God and their future with him. They take on, however, a new meaning when Christ is put in to the text. The Hebrews longed (and still long) for the Messiah to come and rescue them from their oppressors and to give them new hope. Isaiah is encouraging them not to give up because as he says just like seeds there is more to come than first seen or expected and what is to come is glorious.

Paul takes this hopefulness to a deeper level in the three verses form Galatians we heard read. He tells these early Christians (mostly Jewish converts) that the Messiah has been born and that through him we can come very close to God, so close in fact that we can call God ‘Abba’. Abba is probably best translated as ‘daddy’ and its use implies a close, loving relationship. What Paul’s words imply are that through the birth of Christ everything has changed. No more is God a distant reality, he is actually as close to us as a parent can be and because of the love he has for us (and we should have for him) we can rightly call him ‘Abba’ or daddy. It can sometimes be all too easy to forget that it is in Jesus that we see God and in his humanity we can come to know something deep about God’s divinity. No wonder the shepherds were amazed when they went to the stable!

Whether or not shepherds actually visited the Holy Family, is subject to debate and discussion but what this tale implies is that Jesus was born for all of God’s people and creation; not just for the chosen few or the wealthy. By having the shepherds visit him we are shown that Jesus is our Messiah and that he is the Messiah for all whom chose to acknowledge him.

The shepherds were basically outcasts living nomadic lives. A motley crew of undesirables and not all of them Jews either. They visited the Christ Child to pay homage and as such opened the way for all marginalised peoples to come to Christ in hope of liberation and acceptance. Just as the magi did for all non-Jews. But for me the most powerful words this morning are the last few words of the poem:

"I had to stay behind wi’ sheep.
Pity they didn’t tek me along, too. I’m good wi’ sheep,
And the baby might have liked a dog After all that myrrh and such."

Why? Because for me these words speak so clearly of the humanity of Jesus. We can at times get too caught up in the glories of Christmas that we lose sight of the Messiah’s humanity and the sheepdog Shep’s regret brings it home. Jesus might well have liked a dog. A boy and a dog – well many a story has been told and a song sung about that type of companionship. Jesus may have been God but he was also human and in need of love, acceptance, support and encouragement and a dog alongside him might have given him what he needed. We humans like our pets and this poem reminds us that Jesus was just as human as we are, even if he was God as well. For many of us in ‘Lockdown’ our pets have been great company or an excuse to get out of the house and I suspect even those of us without pets have smiled on occasion at the antics of the neighbour’s cat or dog. Pets can and do lift our spirits.

So despite all the religious ‘stuff’ around his birth what we are quite simply celebrating is the fact that a boy was born who was to change the world. To change it by his extraordinariness in the ordinary!

Happy Christmas