Last night I finally got around to lighting the candle of Joy. I try to do it on Sundays, but life occasionally interferes. According to my churches advent guide, this is the candle of the shepherds and the kings. All of the visitors joyously coming to see the new baby who also happens to be God are represented by the tiny flame on my dining room table.
I always imagine there were a lot of shepherds . Perhaps that is because in an effort to include all children in the Christmas pageant most churches go about it like this. Pre-schoolers: you are the sheep. 2nd and 3rd graders: Shepherds. Anyone else not picked out of the hat for something there is only one of like Joseph or the inn keeper, or wiseman number 2, you make up the angel choir. I have seen a lot of Christmas pageants and that is pretty much the way it goes. But I am starting to wonder if maybe we got it all wrong.
There are seasons where I have been the shepherd. Where God has shown up in my life big and glorious. Healing, visions, dream and words. I am blessed to say that there have been shepherd moments in my life. God can and does show his wonder to people in ways that can only be described as miraculous. There are moments in this life where his presence is so big it encompasses the entire night sky. Where all you can do is shout the truth of it all, the goodness, and run straight to the savior and fall on your face in gratitude. Joy comes bursting through you and out of you in direct response to an incredible encounter with God.
This season, for the first time I am drawn to the wisemen, the kings, the strangers from the east. It isn’t that I think I am any more educated, or smarter than the next guy. It is more in the way that God appeared to them. A tiny light in a very dark sky, a glimmer of something that caused them to start their search. Lately God has been looking more like a pinprick of light than a band of heavenly hosts. He has me on a journey through a land that is unfamiliar to me. There is enough light to follow, but it isn’t quite as blindingly obvious as it has been in the past, but still I follow, I seek, I wonder after the sign.
No one really know how many of anybody there were in the stable in Bethlehem. We know there was more than one shepherd. We know there were three separate gifts. Somewhere down the line we have decided that the shepherds were numerous, the wisemen few. I wonder right now if that isn’t reversed. When the holy of holies sends an army of Angels to sing about something, that you can prove in the flesh with a trip down the street, perhaps you only need three or so people to deliver that story to the masses. There seems very little room for doubt.
Maybe it was the wisemen who showed up en mass. Perhaps it took a whole group of them to decide this was in fact worthwhile, this one star was worth a very long trip where they weren’t even sure what they would find at the end, what the face of God looked like. I wonder if they took turns leading the way, spotting the star. I wonder if there weren’t some grumblers at the back some days, who had just had it with the whole journey and were whispering that maybe everyone should just give up and go home. I wonder if they took turns, being the leaders, being the grumblers, feeling sure of the way, and feeling lost.
Maybe one day I will be in charge of the Christmas pageant and I’ll go through the Burger King drive through and anyone who is tired of wearing their sister’s butterfly wings will sport a crown, and only the lucky few whose names are drawn from my hat will wear tea towels tied to their heads and carry their grandfathers cane as a shepherds crook. Maybe everyone’s nativity is different and sometimes you are the Shepherds, sure of what you see, and sometimes you are a wise man, hoping that you are following the right glimmer in the sky, and sometimes, sometimes you are Mary herself, birthing the things that the Lord has placed within you.
It is hard and confusing and painful, it is joyous and miraculous and clear. Because at the end of the journey, of the message, of the birth, there is Jesus, wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. Sometimes you are the shepherd and sometimes you are the wise man but always, always, Jesus is there, right where God led you.