I have a friend who drives a tour bus for several big-name rock groups. He’s gone for weeks at a time, driving the band from gig to gig. Every night, it’s the same thing. Loading out about midnight. On the road anywhere from 1 am to 2 am, and then, driving all night to the next venue.
Needless to say, he has a lot of time to think. He’ll call me from time to time and talk about what he’s been thinking about, and yes, he’s called me in the middle of the night “just to talk about some things.”
Let’s face it. There are some jobs that don’t require all of our mental energy. We can do the job required and not have to engage every part of our brain. Einstein worked as a clerk in a patent office. Every musician in Nashville has worked at some kind of job that, while didn’t engage their full range of talents, allowed them to pay their rents and put food in the refrigerator. Yet, these jobs didn’t require the total energy of the artist, and there was time and space left to write the hit songs and work on signature instrumental “licks” that started careers. These kinds of jobs are seen as a rite of passage for musical success. It’s part of “paying your dues so you can play the blues.”
Most of us don’t have these kinds of jobs. Instead of having the mental space to think about other things, we’re so consumed with our work that we have to arrive at work earlier, stay at work later, and use all of our spare time thinking about work. If our superiors found out we had time to think about anything else, they would assign us another project.
While I have never been a shepherd, being a shepherd seems to be one of those jobs that would give you a little time to think. I’m sure shepherds would disagree with me, but from what I can find, in the time of Jesus, there would have been a lot of time watching the sheep eat – which they do most of the time. Sure, there were lions, bears, and wolves to fend off, but this wouldn’t be a constant kind of thing. There would be moments of frantic efforts to protect the sheep, and then, a couple of hours watching the sheep eat.
When you think about it, there are a lot of shepherds in the stories of the Bible. Abraham was a shepherd. Isaac and Jacob were both herdsmen. Moses was keeping sheep when he saw the burning bush. David, of course, was a shepherd. I think one of the reasons we have so many shepherds in the Bible is that shepherds had time to talk to God. David had time to write songs and prayers. Abraham had long discussions with God.
You would think working at a church would encourage long times of prayer and worship. You would be wrong. You would think, especially at church, you would have a long time to ponder the miracle of Christmas. You would be wrong again. While the rest of the world is cutting back for the holidays, at the church, we’re adding services. Don’t get me wrong, the Christmas Eve service is my favorite service of the year, but usually, I’m not going to 4 or 5 worship services on a Tuesday.
Not only that, but pastoral care calls tick up over the holidays. As the famous comedian Johnny Carson once said, “Christmas is the time of year when we get together with our families and remember why we do it only once a year.” If there are issues in the family, the holidays force them to the top. I drink a lot of coffee during the holidays, mostly while telling my friends that if your dad hasn’t changed by now, he’s probably not going to change at all. If your dad’s not going to change, you have to. It’s a matter of managing expectations. After all, Christmas will be here again in 12 months, and you’ll have to go through all of this again.
By the time Christmas Day gets here, our whole staff is exhausted.
All of us are. We jam the holidays so full of events and expectations, we exhaust ourselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. We’re out every night, exchanging gifts, attending parties, and seeing family and friends.
By the time Christmas arrives, we just want the whole thing over with. We can’t wait until January so we can get back to our normal routines.
The experts call it “noise pollution”. Our world has become so loud with the constant noise of life that the volume of our lives is affecting our mental health. Christmas is filled with loud trips on airplanes and in cars. There’s loud music and loud laughter at parties.
So much for Silent Night.
I think this is one of the reasons the shepherds got invited to Bethlehem. They were quiet enough for God to get a word in edgewise. There was space in their lives. There were long periods of silence. If God said anything, they would be able to hear it.
And God did speak. The Word was born on Christmas morning. Everything God wanted to say was incarnated in Jesus.
And the shepherds heard it all.
I wish joy this Christmas for you and your family. I wish love and laughter with you and all you love.
And I wish you silence. I pray you will have a silence so deep that when the Word is born on Christmas Day, you’ll hear everything the Father wished to say.