Photo by Mahyar Motebassem on Unsplash
We are told the shepherds are full of wonder at a choir of angels singing. They must wonder who will watch the sheep while they go to Bethlehem. As a child I read a story that says it is an angel that tends the sheep. Searching for this story I found two wonders:
- An explanation of why the angels are singing to the shepherds. This article, The Real Truth about the Shepherds on that First Christmas Night, explains that the only sheep kept near Bethlehem were for the Passover sacrifice, and suggests the angels are heralding when the Lamb of God will end those sacrifices forever.
- A second article, The Shepherds at Jesus’ Birth and the Geography of Bethlehem, by Paul H. Wright, explores why the sheep are in which fields around Bethlehem and why.
Every Christian wonders at least once if this event really happened. We wonder who diminishes the story and why. We wonder who will tell the story in the future centuries.
The wonder of the star shines in the colored lights of blocks of houses, or while walking in the Botanic Gardens or Zoo, bundled up against the cold…. There is wonder in the moment of lighting each Advent candle.
What wonder fills your heart this Advent season?
Advent – Season of Traveling
It is between forty and eighty-five miles from Joseph’s home in Nazareth to Bethlehem, depending on the route taken. Mary and Joseph most likely made the journey every year for Passover, staying with their families. Both of their families were from Bethlehem, a small enough town they probably knew each other, and some sources believe were branches of the same family.
But this year is different. The reason for going is a command from their land’s overlord, the Roman Caesar Augustus, a command about getting a headcount for taxation purposes. The options are compliance or rebellion. Rebellion is stirring here and there, but put down by powerful Jews who support Rome in order to maintain their own positions of power.
Half-Jewish King Herod in Jerusalem is part of that group. Herod has killed his own sons, his wife, and thousands of Jews to keep his Roman-given title of King of the Jews. Joseph and Mary choose compliance, even though she is in the ninth month of her first pregnancy.
Others are traveling also. Wise people who study the stars know a conjunction of three great stars will be visible in this specific place. They are traveling to observe this celestial phenomenon, and to bring gifts to the child the stars told them would be born there at this time. Bridgid of the Gael travels from Cill Dara in Eire; she will be Mary’s midwife but no one knows that as they are traveling. Over time tradition will name three others from different lands: Balthasar of Arabia, Melchior of Persia, and Caspar of India. And on the night of the birth, shepherds from the fields around Bethlehem will travel to witness the birth of this child who will serve the common people.
The Magi may wonder as they travel from so far if they read the stars correctly, or, if once they arrive, would a storm cover the sky. They make the mistake of going to King Herod in Jerusalem (five miles north of Bethlehem), wondering where to find the child. Receiving a warning dream, they must have wondered how to get out of Bethlehem without Herod knowing.
Where are we traveling to/from this Advent? Is it a physical journey, like these travelers? Or an inner journey, perhaps known only to ourselves and the child who will be born?
We seem far from that promised time of peace this Advent season. Perhaps our journey can be to explore what we might do to bring about a world of peace, where one loves both the neighbor and the enemy. Perhaps revisiting or hearing about the Advent journey can foster a season of love and light in our hearts.