Luke 2:8 ďIn that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.Ē
Advent (which technically begins tomorrow) is the season of waiting, when we are supposed to prepare ourselves to receive the Christ Child, and every year the Church tries to buck the culture of Christmas Now to try to get people to wait for it.† We donít, of course.† We rush headlong into the shopping and the parties with carols blaring before the Thanksgiving turkey is cold or sometimes even before the ghosts slip back into their graves on Halloween night.
Although this Scripture passage is normally read at Christmas, I think this verse in Luke is an Advent text.† While all of Jerusalem is jostling and bustling with people arriving for the Censusótoo many people for the cityís inns to holdóthe shepherds are removed from the fray.† They donít live in the city anyway, and an inn would do them no good.† They live in the fields, because thatís where the sheep live and they are charged with caring for the sheep.† Iím sure they could hear the noise of the city, and see the people coming and going, but they were removed from it.
It was also night.† There is never a time when shepherds can completely let down their guard, but nighttime is more relaxed than the day.† At night, the sheep are in the fold, and while you would have to sleep in the gate to be sure thieves or animals didnít break in, at least you didnít have to worry that the sheep would wander off and get themselves into trouble.† Sheep are not the brightest lights in the harbor, and if thereís a way to get into trouble, they will find it.† The shepherds here are watchful but quiet.† They are waiting for whatever the midnight clear will bring.
Of course we know the story.† The night brings angels, singing of the birth of a savior and a reign of peace.† It doesnít seem that anybody dashing about the city or swigging beer in its pubs heard the news.† They were too busy.† The angels might well have wanted to sing their news to the King or the shopkeepers or those making their first trip to the City of David.† But the only ones who could hear them were the shepherds, who were keeping watch and were still enough to notice music carried on the night breeze.
For the first time since 1993, I am able to enter the Advent season keeping watch.† At first I scrambled to think of things I could do during Advent to help me prepare, but then I realized that was the problem.† Advent is not about doing.† It is about being.† And waiting.† And watching.† Freed this year from the manic preparations for a host of special services and traditions in the Church, I can leave the city and abide in the fields.† In the night I donít have to worry about moving the sheep from here to there or rescuing the one headed for a cliff.† I need to be vigilant, but nothing more.† Advent is not about the discipline of doing tasks.† It is about learning to be still and listen for the birth of God.
Of course there is always the danger that I will sleep too soundly or forget my charge, but I prefer to dwell on the hope that, out here under the stars, I might hear and see things that those caught up in the bustle and lights of the city would miss.† And so I lie down in the gate and wait.† Maybe Iíll just hear the gentle snoring of the dog.† But perhaps there will also be glad tidings of great joy.† Iíll have to wait and see.
Teach us, Lord, to wait. Amen.
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