Seeking Hidden Christmas: Shepherd’s Faith

by Rev. Doug Gray

     A woman was walking along the beach when she stumbled upon a Genie’s lamp. She picked it up and rubbed it, and lo-and-behold a Genie appeared. The amazed woman asked if she was going to receive the usual three wishes. The Genie said, “Nope. Due to inflation, constant downsizing, low wages in third-world countries, and fierce global competition, I can only grant you one wish. So ... what’ll it be?” The woman didn’t hesitate. She said, “I want peace in the Middle East. See this map? I want these countries to stop fighting with each other.” The Genie looked at the map and exclaimed, “Gadzooks, lady! These countries have been at war for thousands of years. I’m good, but not THAT good! I don’t think it can be done. Make another wish.” The woman thought for a minute and said, “Well, I’ve never been able to find the right man. You know, one that’s considerate and fun, likes to cook and helps with the housecleaning, is good in bed and gets along with my family, doesn’t watch sports all the time, and is faithful. That’s what I wish for ... the perfect mate.” The Genie let out a long sigh and said, “Let me see that map again!” Sometimes it seems true peace will never come, as if it would take an act of magic to make it happen, but as we find the hidden Christmas we begin to see peace is more than possible. Our encounter with the shepherds will show us the way.
     First, peace is not about control, but trust. In our day, many of us try to end our fight with God in two different ways. Timothy Keller writes, in his book, Hidden Christmas, “The irreligious person explicitly asserts his or her independence from God:  ‘I want to live any way I want to live!’ But the religious person much more covertly asserts his or her independence from God. The religious person says: ‘I am going to obey the Bible and do all these things, and now God has to bless me and give me a good life.’ This is an effort to control God, not trust him.” [1] No wonder we can’t find peace! We discover over time, that we can neither completely control ourselves or God. In fact, if we are going to measure our peace and happiness, by whether we are in control, they will always elude us. The angels came to the shepherds and said, “Fear not! for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior…” The way of peace is open, but like the shepherds, will we trust God?
     Second, peace is not about fear, but about love. John Porcino tells the story about a samurai warrior who traveled to the distant home of an old monk. On arriving, he burst through the door and bellowed, “Monk, tell me! What is the difference between heaven and hell?” The monk sat still for a moment on the tatami-matted floor. Then he turned and looked up at the warrior. “You call yourself a samurai warrior,” he smirked. “Why, look at you. You’re nothing but a mere sliver of a man!” “Whaaat!!” cried the samurai, as he reached for his sword. “Oho!” said the monk. “I see you reach for your sword. I doubt you could cut off the head of a fly with that.” The samurai was so infuriated that he could not hold himself back. He pulled his sword from its sheath and lifted it above his head to strike off the head of the old monk. At this the monk looked up into his seething eyes and said, “That, my son, is the gate to hell.” Realizing that the monk had risked his life to teach this lesson, the samurai slowly lowered his sword and put it back into the sheath. He bowed low to the monk in thanks for this teaching. “My friend,” said the monk, “That is the gate to heaven.”[2] The monk risked his life to teach peace, and demonstrated his love in that vulnerability. But God set aside immortality and risked far more being born as a baby to human parents, and one day, Jesus would face death on a cross to show us the path to peace runs through love. Only when we lean into our fears, and let love calm them, will we find the peace…but will we love?
     At the core of most of our world’s problems are fear and greed. We could have peace in the Middle East, if both sides weren’t afraid for their own security and futures. The people and government of Myanmar would not be persecuting the Rohingya people if it were not for hatred born of fear. Our own nation would not be so partisan if not for fear on both sides that the one side won’t honor the needs and work with the other. Wherever we look, some people unreasonably want it all, and others are fearful they won’t have enough. This is not new, but sometimes it seems worse than others. True Christmas shows a way out. The angels say to shepherds, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people…” Tim Keller writes, “We fear rejection and failure, but if you were completely filled with God’s love, you would not care what people thought. We fear the future and circumstances, but if you knew God perfectly, and that [God] is good and in control, you would trust [God]. And you wouldn’t be afraid of death because you would know you would be with [God] forever.” To the fearful, God speaks the Good News that we are not alone, that God Himself has been born in a humble way. To the poor of the world, God speaks the Good News the Good News that they are worth dying for. As the angels say, “for to you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ, the Lord,” for this baby will grow to be a man who trusts God’s love and power so perfectly that He would die to help everyone—regardless of their finances, gender, race, or background—be forgiven. So the true Christmas so often hidden is this peace that blows our minds—that we can be forgiven, that we can start fresh, that our fears find their rest in a baby who is Christ the Lord. The shepherds show us the way to peace is trusting—“Let us go now to Bethlehem and see….” The shepherds show us the way to peace is sharing the love God shows, “When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child…” The shepherds show us the way to peace by going into our every day lives, praising God and giving glory to God in all we do. And so the true Christmas is hidden no longer.

O God, you are the deep well of peace,
the immeasurable sea of love,
the fountain of blessings
and the giver of affection.
You send peace to those that receive it.
Open to us this day the sea of your love,
and water us with abundant streams
from the riches of your grace.
Make us children of quietness and heirs of peace. [3]

1. Timothy Keller, Hidden Christmas: The Surprising Truth Behind the Birth of Christ (NY:  Viking, 2016), p. 109.
2. From Spinning Tales, Weaving Hope: Stories of Peace, Justice & the Environment, edited by Ed Brody, Jay Goldspinner, Katie Green, Rona Leventhal, and John Porcino, New Society Publishers, 1992. New edition 2002
3. Adapted from the Syrian Clementine liturgy