Our Christmas service didn't go the way that we planned. We got started late, but this is Africa, and I consider myself flexible. We sang a couple opening songs, and then, according to the program we were given to follow, we invited a group of kids up to do a Christmas skit. Except they weren't there. So we finessed a pass on that and invited some people up to share a special song, but of course we now caught them off guard. Then, we were to light the last advent candle, but the people assigned to that weren't there either, and likely didn't know they had been assigned. A little later the kids' skit happened, but the delay had been caused by a number of kids not showing up, a situation which the 15-minute delay had not remedied, and it definitely showed in the skit.
According to the grand image of myself that I keep in my own heart, I am a laid-back and culturally-sensitive individual. But I really love Christmas, and moreover, I love the Christmas that I'm used to. Not just because I enjoy it, but because I feel drawn to Christ through the experience. And so, I was quite disappointed with this particular celebration of Christ's Incarnation.
Then our pastor came up to preach his small Christmas homily. Honestly, I don't remember much of what he said, but he mentioned that God sent his message to the shepherds. Here, I've met quite a few shepherds, and they are here as they likely were in Bethlehem, shepherds by virtue of a lack of options. Shepherds by virtue of limited education, resources, and opportunities to do anything else.
I've often enjoyed thinking of them as hidden sages, wise, just not in a way that the world recognizes, like David might have been, had he not been made king. But this is romaticized and not often true. This kind of sheltered upbringing is just as likely to produce shepherds who have many unjustified prejudices, extreme misconceptions about things to which they haven't been exposed, and maybe even bitterness at all that life hasn't brought them. And they would most certainly botch the Christmas program, if anyone would dare to give them a role.
"For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior who is Christ the Lord."
Paul says: "But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God." (1 Cor 1)
This is what God has done, and let those who consider themselves wise (and laid-back and culturally-sensitive) be warned that He may do it again. He may have given his message to the low and despised many times, and I may have missed it. He even gives His reason: "so that no human being might boast in the presence of God." And so it is that my veneer is pulled away, and my true motives unmasked.
We need Paul's words because we need to be often encouraged in our lowliness that God can work through us. We can relate to the shepherds, and are awed that He would send us good news. But all of us (and myself more than most, I think) need to also heed the warning in Paul's words. You who are wise, regard the foolish. Regard the weak, for through such as these God may speak and shame the strong. For none can boast in the presence of God.
Yet, even now, take heart. Do not fear, for there is good news of great joy that is for all people. There is a Savior, he is Christ the Lord. He is lowly and wrapped in a manger. "For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men."