Our paths crossed the first time on the outside steps at 1550 1/2 Iredell Drive, Raleigh, NC. She was helping her friend Alice move out of the garage apartment I was getting ready to occupy. The following Sunday she was in the Younger Singles Sunday School department of the church I attended for the first time. It wasn't love at first sight but I eventually asked her to be my date at our bank office Christmas party in early December. Our second date was when the Singles Department was assigned duty in
the church living nativity scene. It was bitter cold and Harriet and i were asked to be shepherds tending our flocks by night. A year and a half later we were married. Don't tell me something special didn't happen to those shepherds when the angels of the Lord spoke to them. Talk about divine appointments. Harriet and I just had to go on from there and see this thing that had happened. Forty four years later we're still wondering exactly what those angels were saying that cold night in the yard of Hayes Barton Baptist Church.
It reminds me just how central the observance of Christmas is to our lives. Many of our most cherished memories, from earliest childhood through our recent retirement, are remembrances of special moments and treasured people who touched us in some unique and lasting way during the Christmas season. Today we laugh, maybe shed a tear or two as we reflect on how this holiday has marked us. So many words and notes are scribbled in the margins of our memories because of the people, events, gifts, gatherings, worship services, and merry days occasioned by our observance of his birth. Today, I can still hear my dad, The Chester, reading Luke 2 as we prepared for bed on Christmas Eve. We still laugh about the year our parents, Esther and Chester, hid from us on Christmas morning, finally scaring the daylights out of us when they jumped out of the shower stall. Who can forget some of the all-nighters when we were trying to assemble a last minute gift, or when Liz AND Brian received their Cabbage Patch Kids.
There's an asterisk beside the word Christmas in my memory bank. Sure, our first two dates were Christmas events. But, more, the asterisk represents the centrality of the Incarnation in the faith that has defined us for most of our lives. Yes, we are certainly Easter people, redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. But, we are Christmas people too. That "the Word became flesh and dwelt among us..." (John 1:14) is the heart of our faith. In the Incarnation we learn most clearly the life that now defines us in Christ, and what it means to belong to him. The words of the Apostle Paul are a thrilling reminder of how Jesus modeled this life and showed us God's mystery of humble servant-hood:
Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he
was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness
of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming
obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly
exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at
the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the
earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the
Philippians 2:5-11, ESV
Yes, there is the cross and the victory at the close of all things. But, there is at first the way he emptied himself and took the form of a servant. No wonder the shepherds were glorifying and praising God for what they had heard and seen. I've often wondered if the angels showed them everything. But, that's just speculation. It doesn't really matter. They saw enough to know him and glorify God because of it.
When Harriet and I reflect on how being shepherds on our second date figured into our lives, we can grasp how central that story is to our faith. We were freezing young people wearing sheets on a cold night in 1971. They were the first evangelists in a faith that has changed and is changing the world today.
We were shepherds out in a field, sort of. I pray we're better disciples.