more about those crazy shepherds. a poem.

the sheepherders,
invisible ones,
boy did they throw a party and
a jig under the moonlight
back home on their rolling terrain
like the breast of the virgin girl
who nursed the
inky eyes still glistening
wet from Heaven.
well then
you’d have a hullabaloo too
if you’d set sight on that fire lit scene
and knelt on the afterbirth of


Luke 2:19 (TMV)
“…The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!”

it was midnight. upon that much is clear.

The shepherds were a sordid bunch.

Not much sweet singing o’er those plains, I’m bettin’.

Once revered in the time of Abraham, shepherds took quite a fall and had become a hated bunch by the time Jesus was born. Black sheep, you might say. Untrusted. Outcast. Overlooked.


Today, they might be the sort of person you stand in line behind at the gas station shifting your weight impatiently as they buy cigarettes for their dead end job. Or the cash register at the Big Box Store you never make eye contact with but mumble a “Merry Christmas” to as you double check your receipt to make sure you’re not charged twice for something. Or the dozens of widows and widowers, singles and childless, hospitalized and imprisoned and beat down and beat up who have no place to go on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day or any other day of the year, for that matter.


The sort of person with stockings overflowing and family members in assigned places and who sings Silent Night in a full sanctuary at midnight and the hot wax of the church candle drips onto their hand as they choke back a chorus of bitter.


The sort of person who reads this post praying–if they dare pray–for once someone won’t tell them hope comes wrapped in shiny paper or a card or a south bound airplane on December 26.

See, God, tender in His mercy, showed up for the shepherds first…

…the ones who roamed through dark nights and smelled funny and looked unkempt and carried around the crushing load of a vacant heart.

They weren’t even looking for Him.

Maybe some had sought Yahweh at one time, but they’d long since given up. They overheard somewhere that the Messiah wasn’t for folks who smelled like sheep poo…that the Messiah wasn’t for the ones who did what they could, took what they could, survived on what they could. Some of those shepherds might’ve known the Messiah Yeshua was coming, but they also knew, clear as midnight, that He was coming for the ones who hung out at the Temple, the ones who read from the Torah, the ones who had the right homes and prayed in public and tithed and washed and kept company with people who smelled good.

But God, tender in His mercy, showed up for the shepherds first.

They weren’t even looking for Him.

But God, as the shepherds struggled to keep their eyes open by counting the very stars in the very cloven skies He made, burst into their pitch black night anyway.

He knew…

…what the shepherds needed before the thought of Him–let alone the thought of asking Him for something–existed. Before they existed. Before sheep. Before tender shoots of grass for grazing. Before stars. God knew the shepherds.

And God, tender in His mercy, showed up for the shepherds first.

Why the jubilee, indeed.




“Because of God’s tender mercy,
the morning light from heaven
is about to break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
and to guide us
to the path of peace.”
~Luke 1:78-79

Click on the album cover image below for Sara Groves’ beautiful rendition of It Came Upon a Midnight Clear. Peace on the earth, and goodwill to you, dear one.


variations on a midnight clear. a poem. for advent.

where’s the glory in midnight?
the song of old tells of a girl
bewildered and drenched with the sweat of a crowning infant
would be
a baby’s fingers curled around the tip of hers
a reflex as all creation presses against the palm of the


where’s the clarity in darkness?
the crushing load all we can bear
without risking the dashed hope of salvation
hearts cloven by injustice
to trust
bending low under glad and golden hours
watching darkness, too swift, hastening on


where at last it comes upon us
the forte of Babel’s noise no
match against the full on refrain of a love-song
chords swaddling our toiling souls
into the shape of our brokenness
stepping into the form of our decadent filth


shepherds_angels 2

Painting by He Qi, a professor at the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary and a tutor for master candidate students in the Philosophy Department of Nanjing University. He is also a member of the China Art Association and a council member of the Asian Christian Art Association (please check for more information about He Qi).
Post first appeared in my monthly, author newsletter, which you can sign up to receive in the right hand sidebar of this blog. Poem inspired by the familiar hymn, It Came Upon a Midnight Clear.
Words: Ed­mund H. Sears, De­cem­ber 29, 1849. Music: Ri­chard S. Wil­lis, 1850