Until recently, I had spent a lifetime not knowing that the Bethlehem shepherds were not just ordinary shepherds. And the lambs they raised were not just ordinary lambs. At least, the first-born males weren’t. For the hill country around Bethlehem was the breeding area of lambs for the Temple sacrifices. So there’s added resonance for David’s city as the birthplace of his greater descendant, plus striking significance that these shepherds were the first people to see The Lamb.
Which reminds me of a cartoon, by the great political cartoonist Papas, that appeared in UK’s Manchester Guardian paper circa 1960. Santa Claus is telling the Christmas story to a child, who asks, “But how did it end.” The un-noticed backdrop to the scene: the Cross.
In the Celtic Christian tradition, ‘thin spaces’ are times and places where the spiritual and the natural world intersect – occasions when it is possible to reach out and be touched by God.
Christmas, even in our post-christendom world, is such a thin space. Even despite the western consumer-fest of Christmas, even in countries with no Christian tradition, even with all the schmaltz and sparkle, there is often a remarkable focus on the story of God born as man.
It is the one time in the year when many, with no apparent interest in faith, will attend a church, or read the Christmas story – perhaps as part of their attempt to recapture something of the wonder of their childhood.
Staggering numbers of people use Google to find out more of the Christmas story. Websites which have outsider-friendly explanations of Christmas will receive hundreds, often thousands, of hits during December. It’s not too late to add pages to your church website, for example. Rusty Wright’s free-to-use Christmas articles or video clips, are a quick ready-made way to go, and can put the Christmas story into the context of the entire Good News.