We all know what a shepherd looks like, don’t we?

About three feet tall. Wears a striped bathrobe.

Shaggy head adorned with a blue bath towel and a headband. Holds a crooked stick.

Wears Nikes. In my day, they were Converse.

Despite all the competing grand productions this season, there is still something meaningful about the simplest of Christmas pageants. Perhaps it has to do with how the event being celebrated took place in a most simple setting.

One doesn’t have to be well polished to participate in a Nativity pageant. I recall an elementary school friend being so excited to play a wiseman.

Given just one line to recall, he blurted out in his moment in the spotlight: “I am a wise guy, I will do my best.” He missed it by one word.

One can only imagine how different the story would be had we written the script for God’s coming to earth in human form.

With a baby on the way, we want a secure home and mature parents. At the least, married parents.

Preferably parents who’d been to childbirth and child-rearing classes — and had the means to provide a good education along with extracurricular activities. What, a savior who hasn’t played soccer as a kid?

Stability. Safety. A nice neighborhood. A good chance to live a long and trouble-free life.

My how God’s story of incarnation differs from our likely script.

There was no blue-ribbon citizen’s committee to welcome the Christ child and to announce his coming to others. God chose shepherds.

We’ve romanticized the shepherds along with the rest of the story. But the truth is, most people didn’t want to be around shepherds; they were unclean.

Yet, God made them the first messengers. It seems God went out of the way to remind us that it is for ordinary and all people that Jesus came.

King David coming to the throne from a shepherd’s field was considered a great success story. Yet, Jesus embraced the role — calling himself the Good Shepherd.

The simplicity of God’s most earth-shattering revelation is well-noted. The news was not first delivered to, and then announced by, the privileged and powerful.

Rather, as Luke (2:18) told it, “And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told to them by the shepherds.”

Just shepherds, ordinary people like us. People who receive the message and then are called to become reliable messengers.

There are good reasons to be concerned today about how that message — of God’s love being delivered to all of humanity — gets mishandled and perverted into something often exclusive and unloving.

More than ever, it’s up to ordinary people — whether carrying a crooked stick or pecking out words onto the internet — to tell the story in a way that can lead to following in Jesus’ way.

If fear had been meant to rule us, then God would have made that a theme of the story. If having dominance over others was God’s intent, then we would have heard the angels declare such.

Christmas pageants of old included a lot of familiar, Old English language from the King James Version of the Bible. Such as the angel telling the shepherds: “Fear not, for behold I bring you good tidings of great joy.”

Only recently did I notice that the sentence is structured in a way that begins with the word fear and ends with the word joy. So, a good question might be: “How does one get from fear to joy?”

It was no disgrace for the shepherds to start out afraid. It’s not like heavenly hosts show up all the time announcing the coming messiah and asking for their help getting the word out.

Not all fear is unfounded. But how do we move from a life and message marked by fear to the good tidings of great joy?

The misguided efforts by Americanized Christians today are largely rooted in fear: fear of social change, fear of shared privilege, fear of racial diversity, fear of any future that doesn’t resemble the past.

As surely as love casting out fear, fear casts out love. So, unsurprisingly, the Bible keeps repeating the two-word admonishment: “Fear not.”

Gordon Cosby, the late innovative inner-city pastor, said: “When I am afraid a tiny part of me holds captive most of me. … I want to be delivered from fear, for fear is alien to my own best interest or, to put it positively, I want to give myself generously, magnanimously, freely — out of love. I want to be able to take risks — to express myself, to welcome and embrace the future.”

Indeed, fear can captivate us, paralyze us, and keep us from being fully loving. Like the shepherds, let us look upon the word made flesh and move from fear to joy.

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