A reflection on Luke 2:15-20 for Sunday, December 20, 2020 at Mosaic Baptist Church
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Luke 2:15-20 (NRSVA)
Sometimes it is hard to love. Perhaps often.
Love costs. Comes with no guarantees. People we love and invest in move on or pass away. If you have ever outlived a pet you may know the pain of loving.
And, of course, the joy. In my experience, the risk of loving is worth it. The ache does not always outweigh the wonder.
In the Gospel of Luke the angel does not direct the shepherds to go and get involved in the lives of Mary, Joseph, and the manger-lying newborn. To be sure, this heavenly messenger gives a location, what to look for, and the promise that this will all amount to ‘a sign’.
Yet at no point are the shepherds directed to leave their sheep and search the nearby town of Bethlehem. They are not asked to testify to the heavenly host or to the cloth-wrapped child.
This search is made at the shepherd’s initiative. It is a God-initiated revelation – and a shepherd-initiated investigation.
Make no mistake, these herders of sheep are taking the risk of involvement. They are taking the – very real and unknown – path of love.
Love, here, is an exemplary response to the invitation of the incarnation. It causes the shepherds to go in ‘haste’, witness heaven’s miracle, tell their strange story, and finally offer their unreserved praise to God. Our text reads as if the scope of those who heard their account is wider than just these new parents. Luke writes: ‘…all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.’
Perhaps even the amazement of those who heard the testimony is in itself a small step toward love. They choose to listen. On some level they choose to risk the possibility of believing. Although theirs may – at this stage – be small, there is some investment on their part. They have expressed some level of faith. A faith that could grow – or die.
Clearly their stake in this child is nothing compared to that of Mary. Here Mary is the great example of risky, joy-filled, love. Luke’s understated comment: ‘Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart’, reads like a personal – even private – insight only Mary could give.
Mary took the risk of love. We know it came at a cost.
There is another in this story embracing the risk of love. For this one the stakes are higher, wider, and deeper again. Even Mary’s love pales into insignificance alongside.
God is the other lover in this account. In the incarnation God is humbly taking the initiative and asking for the love of the world. It is anything but threatening. A newborn child reveals God’s risky search for relationship. Many will reject him. Many will misunderstand. Some will even plot murder.
And yet God comes in order to love. To make the initial move of grace in the hope of a loving response.
Your returned love is desired, to be sure. Yet, as C.S. Lewis put it, “Love is never wasted, for its value does not rest upon reciprocity”. God’s love for you is not dependent on your response. It is a gift given – and never retracted.
No wonder the angels sing the glory of God!
This Christmas, may you simply encounter again – or for the first time – the humble love of God.
Where have you known the cost of love? Have you ever considered this cost to be too high? Do you consider the cost of love to be ‘worth it’?
Does the Gospel story inspire you to, like the shepherds, search for the signs of God’s activity?
What do you make of C.S. Lewis’ words, “Love is never wasted, for its value does not rest upon reciprocity”? Do you agree with his assessment of reality here?