A little way out of Bethlehem we went to visit the field where the shepherds were watching their sheep when they saw that dazzling light and heard that angelic choir. Well, actually we saw a field somewhere around where that might have been. There are, at least, three fields that make the claim to be the one, a Greek Orthodox one, a Roman Catholic one, and a YMCA one. It was the YMCA one we visited. Nobody can be sure just where the shepherds’ field was, but then that doesn’t really matter.
What matters is that there was a shepherds’ field, that were shepherds, and that they had this amazing experience. The field we visited had some large caves and it would seem that the shepherds may well have ushered the sheep into the caves at night as a means of keeping them safe, different from the picture I have had, but there you are. And then there were burn marks on one of the large rocks at one of the entrances. It is not suggested that these marks go back to Jesus’ time, but I could well imagine the shepherds there at the entrance, keeping the sheep penned in and safe for the night, chatting and cooking something to eat, when suddenly that heavenly choir appeared – Glory to God in the highest and peace on earth. They must have been scared stiff – but are told, don’t be afraid, and are despatched to Bethlehem, maybe five or seven miles away, to be the first visitors to a very special baby.
Shepherds did not fit the bill of those likely to be chosen for such a task – but that didn’t matter to God. Are we willing to recognise God’s unlikely choices? And are we ready to recognise the surprises that God has in store for us?