A Brave, Determined, Faithful Couple

Nothing stops Mary and Joseph,
not traveling from Nazareth to Jerusalem,
then to Bethlehem to obey an official edict,
searching in Bethlehem for a place to stay
and giving birth to a son in a manger,
a feeding trough for the sheep and cattle already there,
and surrounded by strangers who arrive after the birth,
then returning to Jerusalem
to bring Jesus to the temple
to be circumcised on the eighth day,
to be named and blessed—
and not having many resources,
they can only offer a pair of turtle doves
to meet their holy obligation.

Joseph probably did not have funds
to rent a room even if one were available,
not only in Bethlehem—
the journeys slow, he walking,
guiding the donkey on which Mary sat
and later Jesus in her arms,
they would need to stop several times,
64 miles from Nazareth to Jerusalem
six more to Bethlehem
six more back to Jerusalem
then home to Nazareth—
not to mention water and food
to sustain them both,
especially a pregnant and then nursing mother.

The blessings by Simeon and Anna,
truly a gift for all three of them and for us—
even as the parents may have felt both overwhelmed and nervous,
hearing about glory and trouble all at the same time,
not to mention the survival needs of a poor family.
Simeon knew they were poor
because they did not sacrifice a lamb
Would they have appreciated more tangible help?
How often do we bless people for their faith
and then ignore their needs for food, housing,
funds for the basics of life? 

Lectionary texts for the Feast of the Nativity may be found at https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=52

Blessed Births

A woman with no social standing or power
gives birth to the holy child
and shepherds, held in low esteem
if not victims of hostility,
are the ones the angel visits
to share the good news,
to empower them to share it widely.

Do we know, do we remember,
that women of low estate
give birth every day
in homeless shelters and under bridges,
on reservations, in rodent-infested dwellings?
Do we know, do we remember
that those babies are sacred,
and their mothers, too?

Do we know, do we remember,
that men and women of low station—
victims of White supremacy, rapacious capitalism,
drug dependency, and more,
have stories to tell, news we need,
perspectives to enlarge our own?
Do we know, do we remember,
that they are sacred,
and their stories, too?

Each Christmas I remember a special time in my life,
when a ewe gave birth to a precious lamb.
I was 14, raising sheep as a 4-H project,
when a ewe became pregnant very early—
about two months before we had scheduled it.
It was Christmas Eve and my father and I
attended her after returning from midnight worship.

Kneeling on the straw, stroking the mother,
speaking encouraging words,
I could not forget the birth
we celebrated at church.
Our barn was larger than the lean-to
often pictured in art and books
but it was filled with animal smells,
sheep baa-ing,
a brisk wind whistling outside,
while the light from the bulb in the ceiling and our lantern
was not as bright as from the star.

As the adorable little one emerged
standing on wobbly legs,
mother licking her
to remove the birthing membrane,
I knew I wanted to name her
Mary Christmas!

And so she was.

Still, the time came
some years later
when I had to send her to market
where she joined
all the other sacred beings—
those hung from trees, from crosses,
those shot in the streets and casualties of war,
those taken that others might eat their fill,
those who die for lack of water, food, and health care—
all those whose memory others cherish
as I remember her.

Texts for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day from the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, may be found at https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=52 , https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=53 , and https://lectionary.library.vanderbilt.edu/texts.php?id=54 

Where Are the Shepherds?

Reflection on Nativity of the Lord, Year A

 

Focus: Luke 2:1-20
Click here for biblical texts

 
In those days a decree went out
from Caesar Agustus that all the world should be registered,
but did that include the shepherds? 
If so, what were they doing in the fields?
Waiting for the angels?
Are you waiting, too? Or has the story
become so worn, predictable, that it no longer sends shudders
down your spine, as it did when angels shone
in the sky, proclaiming the best news of that, and our, time.
‘Tis the season of outcasts, and none were more scorned
than shepherds—so of course angels appeared to them,
not magistrates or merchants or certainly kings.
Indeed, the story of Christmas is about the lowly,
not just Mary but Joseph too and all the rest
of Israel under the heel of Rome
and those on the margins of the marginalized.

But it is not only that angels appeared to shepherds,
God doing what God does so often—appearing to,
speaking with, the powerless not the powerful—
but that shepherds became angels themselves,
testifying for and to those gathered in the stable,
agents of the Holy One to the world.
Is not that our call as well, to witness
to the grace, truth and love of God
wherever we are—hillsides, homes, small towns,
big cities, churches and temples,
family dinners, public places, casual conversations,
anywhere we hear good news that needs to be shared
with a world hungry for more than increasing stock prices,
celebrity misbehaviors and divorces, political tweeting,
and mad attacks on shoppers and students.

Shepherds in the church are expected to be calm,
perhaps even quiet, always kind and gentle,
and it is good when they do not yell or condemn,
but to get excited, to be eager,
is what we need, and God wants, to share love and hope and joy
and peace, too, with strong voices , heartfelt expressions,
souls bursting with deep truths of divinely inspired lives.
Not sure what to say? Maybe we can venture to nearby hillsides
or other quiet places under the stars
and wait, like shepherds, for the angels on their way—
there are always angels, God makes sure of that—
the question is, for us, will the shepherds show up again?
 

writing+poetryAbout this poem . . .Jesus and his parents are the focus of course, and yet there are all these others playing important roles, the animals in the stable, of course, as well as shepherds and angels. I used to raise sheep—a small flock for a 4-H project on the farm long ago—and I continue to wonder at the many times sheep and shepherds are central to the biblical record.  I know I have been at times a sheep (and beautiful though they can be, that is not necessarily a compliment) and as a pastor some called me a shepherd.  But maybe, just maybe, shepherds are supposed to do more than keep the sheep in line, maybe we, all of us, shepherds ourselves, are called to testify in our own ways to the presence of God in our lives.
©Robin Gorsline 2016 FaithfulPoetics.net