Sunday, December 11, 2016

Small Things

Sometimes when we look at the big picture of our lives, it can feel purposeless, or at least mundane and ordinary. Other times, there are moments—spontaneous times with friends and family; instances of peace and joy in the midst of stress; images of beauty against a dark city—that remind us that God created our lives to made up of small moments. We are too much a “movie” culture, expecting to see a beautiful story arc, when in reality our lives are messy, disjointed, distracted, and less than picture-perfect. Today begins the third week of Advent. It is the Shepherds candle, or the candle of Joy. I think we can learn a lot from the shepherds in the Nativity story. They teach us the value of these small things.

In my first post this Advent season, I mentioned the influence of Lilias Trotter, the missionary and artist. I also used the quote seen below on December 2, when talking about the pivotal moment of Jesus’ birth announcement. But I want to share the whole entry Miriam Rockness wrote on December 14, 2012 about Trotter’s writings and the Third Sunday of Advent (I received permission and welcome from Miriam). It is a perfect introduction to the third Advent candle, and reflects on what we can learn from those Bethlehem shepherds.

Light of Joy
“The first impression of Palestine was of the strangely small scale of everything.  But before nightfall one came to realize that this is an intrinsic part – that God wants to show us that nothing is great or small to Him who inhabited eternity in its dimensions of space as well as of time.  It is a pivot land – and pivots are apt to be small things in the eyes of those who do not understand their meaning.”- 26 March 1924

Lilias’ dream of a lifetime was fulfilled in Spring, 1924, with a trip to Israel – “wonder of wonders!” – the holy land where Christ was born and lived and died.  Her initial response was surprise at the “strangely small scale” of everything.  Yet, upon reflection, she observed the significance of “smallness” both on a cosmic and personal scale.

Cosmic.  The long-awaited Messiah:  a baby – The Baby – was born in a simple stable in an obscure part of town.  Who received the birth announcement?  Kings?  Governors?  Religious leaders?  People of high rank with “contacts” who could spread the word around?  No.  Simply shepherds who were keeping watch over their flocks.

It shouldn’t be a surprise, really, that the same God who placed His promised Redeemer in the womb of a peasant, prepared a straw-filled manger for the birth, would choose humble shepherds to first hear the good news.

And what an announcement!  As if heaven could not contain its ecstasy, an angel of the Lord broke into the stillness of the night, shining with God’s glory.  Reassuring the terrified shepherds, this angel declared the long-awaited message:  “A Savior has been born to you.”  And as if the heavens could not contain their joy, a great company of angels joined the angelic messenger and literally filled the fields with their song of praise.

Little is known about the shepherds but one thing stands out about God’s choice:  He chose individuals simply doing their jobs.  Without press or fanfare.  Job promotion or raises unlikely.  Just keeping vigil over their flocks – night after night, week after week, year after year.

Personal.  The application is profound.  To those of us who seek a “vocation” – a calling, a purpose – it is likely to manifest itself to us when we least expect it.  When we are fully engaged in doing what we are supposed to be doing in the here and now.

And it does make sense.  God is most likely to assign His special ministrations to those people already proving faithful in their given task, in the small uneventful circumstances of each day.

For Lilias, it was a vocation – an adult lifetime – of “small things” peopled with street urchins, cast-off wives, irresponsible young men, individuals marginalized by illness and/or poverty. It was start-up programs only to be shut down by government unrest. . .   dangerous travel – carriage, train, camel – to people untouched by the light of Christ . . .  coming alongside families, living with them through death, divorce, set-backs. . . spending her life and love lavishly amongst people for whom her station, education, and talent had no currency.

What is it for you?  For me? What are the “small things” that God has assigned us?  The endless daily tasks, finishing only to begin again… the job which occupies hours of each day without apparent appreciation or reward… people draining us with their needs. . . responsibilities that clutter our minds and hours without ever being resolved. . . tending trivialities which obscure the larger scheme. . . .

The Shepherds’ Candle represents the Light of Joy that unexpectedly brightens the hearts of a humble band of shepherds. The question is: Am I faithful in the “small things” when no one is looking or, for that matter, caring?  Am I, like the shepherds of old, faithfully carrying out the tasks appointed me?  Am I waiting and watching, ready to receive glimpses of grace, glimmers of glory that might unexpectedly brighten my humble heart?

“Nothing is great or small to Him who inhabited eternity.”

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