“Long Lay the World in Sin and Error Pining till He Appeared and the Soul Felt its Worth”
As Christmas looms close, and advent begins drawing to its conclusion, there is one last group of human participants that we must talk about. These are of course the shepherds who are residing outside of Bethlehem on the night of Jesus’ birth. These lowly workers that night received a key role in the unfolding drama, and their characters would represent one of God’s greatest messages to the world that evening.
In the now-classic movie, Rocky, there is a moment in which, before the climactic fight against Apollo Creed, the boxer says to Adrienne, his girlfriend: “Nobody's ever gone the distance with Creed, and if I can go that distance, you see, and that bell rings and I'm still standin', I'm gonna know for the first time in my life, see, that I weren't just another bum from the neighborhood.” (If that was hard to read, believe me, it’s no easier to try to make out from Sylvester Stallone’s signature dialect), but the message is clear. Rocky believes his worth will come when he proves himself as someone who can rise up and accomplish something. In order to believe he is anything but a worthless “bum”, he has to perform. It seems to be an inherent human longing of ours.
The Shepherds of the story are quite literally bums. Not the ones from Rocky’s neighborhood but lowly workers with no social status nonetheless, and so when the angel appears God communicates something altogether wonderful to our world. He communicates, perhaps for the first time to them, that these shepherds are not bums, but not because they can go the distance or because they have performed, but simply because they are created by and still loved by God and he still desires to be with them. If that is true of dirty shepherds, then it is true of the whole Roman world and the whole world for all of time. In the shepherds God tells us that he values us, and he intends to restore the relationship we once had with him and restore our identities solely by his own act of love.
-Have you ever felt worthless? What do you do to reassure yourself of your value on a daily basis? How might your life look different if you turned to the nativity for your sense of value rather than one of these other strategies?
(Credit to Pastor Timothy Keller for the Rocky illustration)