For Sunday, January 1, 2012
Isaiah 61:10 – 62:3
First Sunday After Christmas Day (Year B, Christmas)
Adam Pynacker’s “Annunciation to the Shepherds” appears as the header art for the Christmas season readings of the Revised Common Lectionary site. I was surprised to find out that this was painted in the 1600’s. It seems more modern given both the color template and use of light. The glory of God is bursting into the darkness accompanied by all manner of angels, signs and wonders. It’s quite terrifying for the shepherd and his wife who witness it. She’s fallen down and he’s running for his life while their bull is charging one way and their goat another. Is this not a metaphor for the chaos of the Christmas season. If it’s not bulls and goats in a frenzy it’s Moms at the mall duking it out for a pair of Air Jordans.
Why would the angel of the Lord choose to make the first public announcement of Jesus’ coming to some shepherds in a field? The Vanderbilt citation for this work contains this interesting insight into the status of shepherds in first century Palestine:
Shepherds were a despised occupational group. Shepherds could be romanticized, largely due to the status of King David, the once and future shepherd king…However, in fact shepherds were generally ranked with ass drivers, tanners, sailors, butchers, camel drivers, and other despised occupations. Being away from home at night, they were unable to protect the honor of their women; hence they were presumed to be dishonorable. Often they were considered thieves because they grazed their flocks on other people’s property. (Malina/Rohrbaugh, 93)
So the angel of the Lord comes to announce the revelation of the greatest of all mysteries in the Bible – the identify of Messiah – and makes it to the contemporary equivalent of a taxi driver and his wife?
Yet this is the beauty of the gospel. God puts equal importance on each of his children no matter their present station. He wants each of us to sing in our souls the way the subject of his redemptive purpose does in Isaiah 61:10,11:
I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness . . . For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.”
Note that God’s end game is not simply to save individual sinners but also to redeem the world in all its brokenness. The prophet Isaiah now picks up where the former speaker leaves off and says this:
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her righteousness shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch.
In contemporary culture ‘Zion’ may be best known as the underground base of the rebels warring against the Matrix in the movie of the same name. Yet in God’s lexicon Zion is is the city of God in the new age. It is the place where his purpose dwells without constraint (TWOT).
The significance of Christmas is that God’s dwelling with Man has come in a new way, in the person of Jesus. The church, as the body of Christ, is now the place in which the Spirit of God dwells. In view of the darkness of our world, and in view of the certainty of God’s intent to dispel this darkness with his light, may we as the church not keep silent. May we not remain quiet, but rather serve as a blazing torch to the world around us of something new, better, and real.