Hillside Shepherds…

What a night. In a certain Bethlehem stable.

So … whilst Mary and Joseph recovered their breath, Gabe and a few friends had to be elsewhere.

Startling neither Royal Court nor Temple cloister, but shepherds on a dark hillside on the edge of town; open air outsiders. No mistake, this. No misdirection.

It was Intentional.

As if sending a signal, you might think? Sent to those scented by their sheep, their calling keeping them from observing Sabbath. Those termed in that society as ‘ritually unclean’.

Peace and Goodwill proclaimed. To them.

After midnight – bright radiant light on a freezing hillside. Followed by a first sermon on a Mount? Or an early Beatitude blessing? Perhaps.

The poor of the earth, the last become first – to hear those words … telling them also, as well as Mary, to fear not, to take courage.

As a Saviour had just been born in a backwater town. Who’d bring great joy to all people. Not only those who pray in the ‘right’ way.

So, for once, our boyos did what they were told … go find the child.

In a place where they’d feel at ease – a Bethlehem stable,/ where the Bread of Heaven lay in a manger, in an animal’s food trough for a crib.

Where Shepherds found themselves lost in wonder; that they’d been singled out by angel echoes of a world shaken through a mother’s agony, by a child’s first cry; called from what seemed mundane lives to be part of something much bigger.

Bringing Mary and Joseph their most precious gift – their story of angelic announcement, of a saviour’s birth.

So that they might take heart.

These the first gift bearers. Working men bringing Good News from nearby. Whilst others journeyed from afar.

The news that encouraged Joseph to hold onto his dream; that left Mary pondering more words, storing them up, even in her pain. Even whilst waiting for the seasons to turn. With the old world weakened. But the new glimpsed only through tears.

The reversal, The Magnificat, the casting down and lifting up, beginning to take shape, not before cheering crowds, but in the stench of a stable. Through a child entrusted to the obscure and the poor; reversing the status of the haves and have-nots.

Those now without – were those lost in their temples, palaces, bordellos or boardrooms –full of the mighty men of trade who had forgotten mercy – as our Mr. Dickens puts it.

Whilst the haves stood lost in wonder.

Now. Fast Forward. To a more recent legend I’ve heard of.

That sometimes Gabe, and a few friends like to gather at dusk, at this time of the year, on other hillsides surrounding.

And it is said, that one of their favourite spots is atop our very own Cavehill, gazing out over a city in healing – but not yet healed.

Wanting to cradle this place of separate development, of supposedly ‘benign’ apartheid.

But also, a place where something new, also full of contradictions, struggles to birth.

And as the day leaves, they watch colours begin to glow in the flats below that wealth has passed by. Lights draped in hope and love, remembering again journeys to a stall, to be part of something bigger.

And if he could, I think Gabe would … cry.

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