Advent reflection #1: The Ache for Acceptance (guest blogger)
This year we at Urban Skye are presenting a Liturgy of Peace in Denver at Pomegranate Place every Thursday evening during the month of December. Advent is a waiting time during which we may focus on the ache of our hearts and the longing for the coming of God into this hurting world. The first evening focused on the ache for acceptance and the welcome of God. The reflection is written by guest blogger, the one and only Aram Haroutunian.
An Advent Reflection
The Shepherds: Outcasts (The ache for acceptance and the welcome of God)
Pomegranate Place – December 2, 2010
by guest blogger Aram Haroutunian
How many of you are old enough to know and remember “the garbage man”? Back in the day, there were two kinds of trash: common, non-perishable trash, which you threw into your wastebaskets, and perishable trash – “garbage” – which you put in a metal cylinder, sunk into the ground, usually just outside the back door, covered by an iron lid. And once a week, the garbage man would come by, and collect your garbage. And his coming was heralded by the unmistakable stench of his truck . . . and of his clothes, along with the processional of flies; especially during the hot summer months, when the garbage had opportunity to sit . . . and ferment. When the garbage man arrived, it was time to scatter.
Today’s equivalent would probably be “port-o-potty man” – you know, the guy that drives around in the tanker truck with that long, hose which . . . well, you know . . .
Not exactly someone you’d invite in for lunch.
“Now there were in the same country shepherds, living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.”
Possessing only the wrong kind of reputation, shepherds were simple men with simple needs: a dry bed, strong drink, good stories, and enough open space between them and “the camp” of the religious culture. Simple people maybe, but certainly not accepted. Shepherds were known in those days as liars and thieves. In court, their testimony was considered worthless. “Who would believe a shepherd?” They were not welcome in the local synagogue, much less the temple in Jerusalem. Being unclean, not only were they not welcome in the temple, but any contact with them would make you unclean. They were to be avoided. No wonder they kept to themselves.
“And behold (that’s code for “hey everybody, check this out!), an angel of the LORD stood before them, and the glory (the shekinah, the beauty, the weight, the very substance) of the LORD shone around them . . . and they were greatly afraid.”
Or, as the old King James version beautifully puts it, they were sore afraid.
Why were they afraid? They had been taught all their life that God wanted nothing to do with the likes of them. Perhaps even believing that God hated them. So they kept to themselves, out in the fields . . . the untouchables. Segregated from the rest of community. And now an Angel of the Lord shows up in the middle of their night. You know what they were probably thinking: Busted! We’re get’n ours! He is coming to judge the earth – and he’s gonna separate the sheep from the goats. They certainly understood that metaphor . . . and they certainly knew who the goats were.
And so, shirking back in anticipation of the ultimate “come to Jesus meeting”, they are thrown a curve:
“Fear not. For behold (check THIS out), I bring you good tidings . . . of great joy . . . which will be for all the people.”
All the people?
“For there is born to you this day in the City of David a savior, who is Christ, the Lord.” City of David – that’d be Bethlehem – a little, po-dunk town, 5 miles outside of Jerusalem . . . Jerusalem’s back door, if you will.
At this point the shepherds are probably thinking, “Oh no. Here it comes. We gotta somehow clean up our lives, and you’re going to make us march into church . . . errr . .. I mean the synagogue . . . to see this guy who’s going to “save us.”
“And this will be the sign to you: You will find an infant . . . wrapped up in swaddling cloths . . . lying in a feeding trough.”
Feeding trough? You mean he’s going to be outside? Among the animals? In a trough filled with hay and grain and drool and spit? With manure all around on the ground? Wow . . . that’s our kind of people.
And not only this, but “suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace; goodwill toward men!”
So, when God needed heralds to announce the First Advent to the camp, God chose them. The largest gathering of angels ever assembled, sang for them. They sang of a peace which would now be available to all people – even those outside the camp. The irony is not lost: the liars became the star witnesses. And isn’t this just like God, who loves to flip everything on it’s head: who makes the first last and the last first, where you’re blessed if you’re poor, and where you’re blessed if you’re meek?
And irony is added upon irony: Instead of goats being separated from sheep, this “good news” was to be for all the people. Maybe we’re all goats? Or maybe we’re all sheep? Or maybe . . . every one of us is both: goat and sheep. And Jesus comes in the form of a vulnerable babe, lowering our defenses, so that perhaps we might open our hearts for just a moment – and let God into those places in us . . . . where there is stench . . . where we feel untouchable . . . unlovable . . . where if people came to see and know those parts of us – they’d avoid us, repulsed by the stench of our “garbage”.
And yet into those very places, Jesus comes, mild and meek. Into the spit, and the drool, and the manure. St. Paul wrote:
“For God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are. That no flesh should glory in His presence.” (I Cor. 1:27-28)
“And the Word became flesh, and pitched his tent among us. And we behold His glory.”
Lo, in the silent night
A child to God is born;
And all is brought again,
That ere was lost or lorn.
Could but thy soul, O man
Become a silent night!
God would be born in thee,
And set all things aright.
~ 15th century