One of the comparisons made in order to help us understand Jesus was the analogy so often made: God is like a shepherd. Again, that sounds nice, right? Shepherds keep the little lambs safe from predators – a noble task.
But real shepherd’s in Jesus’ day weren’t so highly esteemed. Although they cared for the animals that would be sacrificed to atone for sin, a worthy job, they weren’t particularly cared for by their community. Because shepherds handled these creatures, the shepherds were considered unclean and not eligible to keep the ceremonial law. Common held perceptions included poor opinions of the shepherds themselves – disreputable, untrustworthy and irreligious to name a few. Shepherds, no matter how “less than” in reputation were expected to be good enough to willingly lay down their life for their sheep. Shepherds were, in effect, sacrifices, which brings us back to Jesus.
Jesus was no Joel Osteen packing in the crowd and promising prosperity. Although he had a brief spurt of popularity, it wasn’t long before the expectations folks placed on him ended in disappointment. Many deserted him. Some were disappointed that he didn’t prove himself to be powerful and able to overthrow the Roman oppressors. Others were scared when he demonstrated so much power that he could raise his friend Lazarus from the dead.
Today we have a bit better idea of what Jesus is up to – but I suspect most folks still find him disappointing at times – even if we are hesitant to say so. We’ll talk about that more next year! But for today, this Christmas Eve, I hope you will join us at our contemplative service, when we will not make a big production out of Jesus, but instead, offer a time of contemplation and reflection in the hopes that we might experience Jesus as he is, not as we want him to be. I think if we can accept that, we might be closer to self-acceptance too.