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Harking Up the Wrong Tree

Abraham Bloemaert (Manner of) – Announcement to the shepherds c.1600

Angels sing “Hark!”, or at least the herald ones do. The church’s problem is that we’re singing Hark! in all the wrong places. We’re harking up the wrong tree. And Christmas is the best time for Dad Jokes.

8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,

14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’ (Luke 2:8-20)

These shepherds living in the fields were considered too unclean for worship in the temple. They were considered lowly peasants for sure, but their profession was also part of the problem. The religious structures of the time made it impossible for them enter God’s house.

So, it’s a pretty big deal when these lowly, dirty shepherds are the first to hear the announcement of Christ’s birth. These angels are harking up the RIGHT tree. When God makes Godself public and moves into the neighborhood, God wants the shepherds to be the first to know. The shepherds – the ones not allowed in the temple – are the first ones invited to God’s new home.

The distance between the temple and those living in the fields is only getting greater. The chasm between the church and those who are systemically cast out is only getting wider. The pandemics of COVID, systemic racism, and economic strife are felt intensely by so many right now. There are multitudes living in the fields this winter in our communities. God crosses the threshold into the lives of these who are living in the fields. The angels’ Hark! is for those living in the fields.

The good news for those of us hanging out at the temple harking up the wrong tree is that this good news of great joy is for all people (verse 10). It’s as if God knows the privileged ones will hoard the good news of great joy for themselves if they receive it first. And it will never find its way to the fields. But, this good news of great joy will truly be for ALL people if it is the lowly ones receive it first.

The Christmas story is a story of God becoming public, becoming incarnate, moving into the neighborhood. It is a story of this good news of great joy being made known publicly. We no longer need to hark up the wrong tree. The journey into to the fields with our neighbor is a journey to which we are called. When you arrive you will encounter your neighbor and the good news of great joy they share with you will leave you speechless. Your only word will be Hark!

May the incarnate Christ meet you where you are this Advent and Christmas – in the fields or in the temple – and draw you into that good news of great joy that offers the kind of hope that turns our world upside down.


Minneapolis Encampment. Photo by David Joles, Star Tribune