The spontaneity and enthusiasm of the shepherds

Christmas 1 2020

Well, it’s the last Sunday of a difficult and extraordinary year. And it looks as if the general chaos caused by Coronavirus is set to continue well into 2021. Even the simplest things have become complicated – nipping out to the shops or seeing your GP,  getting a haircut. And things we have taken for granted have become challenging and difficult – hugs, going out for a coffee with friends, getting together for Christmas.


At first it was, in some ways, a bit of a novelty – unless you worked in a hospital that is, or needed to buy some loo roll. Hardly anyone knew someone who had died of Covid-19, many people enjoyed working from home, and I imagine there were quite a lot of children who were very happy not to have to go to school. But then it began to wear thin, and at the moment when we just wanted it all to end so we could get on with our lives. For all sorts of reasons we are now impatient, weary, and tired of having to treat our families and friends with continued caution.


In the midst of this great disruption, we find ourselves with the shepherds again. Now there was a disruption – one minute they were minding their sheep, and the next minute there was a choir of angels urging them off the hillside – and then there was the baby in the manger. We get the feeling that their lives would never be quite the same again. And it all changed in an instant – quite unexpectedly.


What I like about the Shepherds is that they just got up and went. You get the feeling with the Magi that it would have taken several days to pack their bags and get all their gear together. There’s something much more spontaneous about the Shepherds – you can imagine them running towards Bethlehem – no sedate camels for them, no poise, no grandeur, no big plans.


And maybe 2020 has done that with us. We’ve had to lay aside so much – everything is stripped down to the bone almost – all the frills have gone. For those at church, no carol services or nativity plays, no coffee and chat after the service. At Christmas – just the simple, almost stark story of Jesus’ birth. Out there, we as a nation cleared out our homes – after the end of the first lockdown, charity shops were overwhelmed with donations. 2020 was the year of stripping back and the clearing out.


So, what can we hope for in 2021? Well let’s hope this epidemic will come to an end sooner rather than later. Let’s hope we get our vaccinations quickly and that we can begin to live again. But there are things we maybe ought to keep. Let’s keep some of the simplicity we’ve learned about this year – to focus on the underlying structures of life upon which everything else hangs. The love behind the gifts, the trouble taken and the thoughtfulness behind the cards, the love behind the hug, the friendship behind the smile. Sometimes we think that the extras are the essentials; this year has shown us exactly what the essentials are – the frills have been set aside. Hopefully 2021 will see the return of some of the extras – but let’s not forget the essentials which often get hidden beneath. 


I think 2020 has also shown us that, in many ways, we can’t really return to normal. Covid-19 has happened because society is destroying the natural world. We have to change our ways, think about what we buy, what we eat, how things are packaged, how to protect the environment, how we go about our lives. I think we need to listen most especially to young people. It is especially from young people where the drive for conserving and protecting the world is coming from. Also, the likes of Chris Packham and Sir David Attenborough – they’re one generation and two generations older of course – we need to listen to them too.


I have the feeling that, if we could take a little of the spontaneity and enthusiasm of the shepherds, their immediate seeking out of the most important thing, and  if we could emulate their freedom from ‘stuff’, then 2021 would be a year of healing and hope.


Rev’d Dr. Anne Morris

Vicar St. Oswald’s, Knuzden, Blackburn