Editor’s note: This Advent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).
By Dr. Polly Coote
The world turned upside down — that’s what it was. I’ll never forget it. We’re out in the field near Bethlehem one night, taking turns keeping an eye on the sheep. Except for possible wolves, it’s pretty peaceful out there at night, though not all happy flute playing under the stars. So it’s quiet — things are under control in the world: Augustus is emperor, Quirinius is governor in Syria, Herod is allowed to be king of the Jews, the priests are taking care of temple affairs, and everybody’s registered in their right place. And suddenly the army shows up. Not the Roman army, but an even more terrifying host, lighting up the sky like midday, not midnight. At first we panic — who wouldn’t? Then, after the commander steps out and says, “Nothing to be afraid of, we’re here to help,” I calm down a little and begin to wonder what sort of mission is this? Who sent these troops, why here, to this empty ground? Have these guys got the wrong address? Shouldn’t they be dealing with the authorities at headquarters in the city? Things only get weirder: the commander says he’s got a message for us, for us! A savior, an anointed leader, has just been born in King David’s hometown, our Bethlehem — an announcement you’d expect to come with a comet or an earthquake or something like that, but no, the sign, get this, the sign by which we are supposed to recognize this savior is that the new baby is wrapped up and lying in an animal feeding trough in some house where the family is staying in town. What kind of a sign is that? If we weren’t too stunned, we’d have laughed. Then the whole army bursts into song, “Glory to God on high” — evidently that’s who sent them — “and peace for people with whom God is pleased.” Does that mean for us, shepherds? What kind of peace are they talking about? — not the Romans’ peace, for sure. After the military choir withdraws, we decide to go and check it out, and sure enough we do find a newborn baby lying in an animal feeding trough. The mother looked like a nice ordinary young girl, just as blown away by what was going on as we were, or more. I mean, even more like having the baby was part of some much bigger amazing plan being worked out by God. I wonder whatever became of that baby — and that peace. I’d like to see that army come back and finish the job.
Dr. Polly Coote is a former faculty, associate dean, and registrar at the San Francisco Theological Seminary.