"In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the City of David there has been for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Luke 2:8-12
The shepherds in Luke's gospel remind me of anesthesiologists. They made a living by keeping watch, protecting. Their work, if they did it well, looked easy enough (though it wasn't) and lacked glamour, and its proof was a preservation of stability, which of course looks the same as "nothing happening" even though in fact much energy is put into achieving that undisturbed state. They remained anonymous and, on the margins of Bethlehem life both geographically and socially, got little recognition for what could sometimes be a dangerous job. When dramatic things did happen, whether terrible or wonderful, like all people who avoid getting smug or arrogant about life, they paid attention and allowed themselves a fully engaged response - a quickened pulse, a widened gaze, a readiness to go where they were needed. They maintained a capacity for wonder and reverence for life despite a largely tedious existence. The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.
This Christmas I am thinking of the shepherds and feeling a sense of camaraderie across the eons. Their not-so-secret message for me this year, I think, is a reminder to stay open to wonder, to run toward it every chance I get. I'd like to think if their ghosts could look my way across the thousands of years and miles that they'd give me a friendly nod as well, and permit me to rejoice with them in the thought that when Christ was born, the angel of the Lord invited to the baby Jesus' side not the rich and famous, or the prominent and "important," but the anonymous who kept watch at night and did their work in silence and solitude.