“O come, O come Emmanuel
And ransom captive Israel
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear…”
Nights fall cold and early now. The sheep crowd near us as we huddle by the fire beneath our robes. When I lie on my back and look up at the Judean sky, the stars seem pinpricks of ice.
It gives much time for thinking, this long darkness. Time for wondering, sometimes for talking. My older brother Zephaniah, who travels to Jerusalem to sell our lambs for the temple sacrifice, tells me of the Zealots he sees there, of their plans to overthrow Rome and restore rightful leadership to Israel. I think Zeph would join them, but for leaving Abba. But would they even have him as one of them, the way religious people look on us shepherds? Whenever I happen into Bethlehem and meet a rabbi or scribe, they look at me as if I smelled like pig. They never seem to remember that lambs for the LORD’s altar cannot raise themselves. Or that ‘tis hard to keep ceremonial washings when you live out in the fields.
Didn’t the prophet Micah himself, him I am named for, speak of even Messiah as a shepherd? But they forget that. Perhaps the LORD has as well.
Sometimes I think Zeph is right—that our best hope is to rise up and fight for justice for ourselves, in our own strength. I want to keep hoping, to keep waiting. Yet sometimes that hope seems as thin as a smoky wisp from a dying campfire.
Last night I whispered them to myself as I lay, those promises I learned at Abba’s knee, those he said were specially meant for our town.
But as for you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, too little to be among the clans of Judah, from you One will go forth from Me to be ruler in Israel. His goings forth are from long ago, from the days of eternity…And He will arise and shepherd His flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD His God…This One will be our peace.
Peace…in a world of Romans and Pharisees, of injustice and poverty and sickness and dying. It is a vain hope, perhaps. The LORD has been silent to us for four hundred years. Perhaps He has forgotten His promise. Perhaps our sins are too great. Or perhaps we missed Him.
But then, our forefathers were enslaved in Egypt for four hundred years. And still God delivered them. And so I hope. It is better than no hope at all.
Originally posted December 3, 2011.