Shepherds—not pageant actors—but genuine shepherds climb the steep roads into the village. They are sundarkened,rough-looking men in heavy wool cloaks. They process into the Church at midnight—the villagers are silent with respect, the children stare with amazement. The last shepherd to enter carries a lamb from his flock and places it in the arms of the priest and the service begins.
This tradition speaks to that need for us humans to make Christmas more real. That shepherds should arrive on Christmas Eve would make it seem more like it is happening here. But it goes beyond that. That tradition speaks of God’s action.
Throughout scripture, God is portrayed as the Great Shepherd. And on that Christmas Eve so long ago, God’s own self enters time and space—enters the here and now—and places a lamb of God’s own choosing, not into the arms of some priest, but into the arms of Mary. God enters the here and now and places Jesus the Lamb into Mary’s arms. The Lamb who later would shed his blood for us. The Lamb who gives us reason to celebrate Christmas Eve.
And that night, that here and now, God comes again to place Jesus in our own arms, in our own lives, that we might celebrate not just his birth, but also his death, and his resurrection. The Lamb comes this Christmas eve. This time. This here. To you and to me. To the whole world.
May your arms—and your whole lives—carry Christ the Lamb this Christmas and all year long.