Shepherds in Bethlehem on their way to peace

At the end of the Christmas festivities, I return to the narrative in Luke’s gospel about the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem, shepherds that look for, find, and build peace. We see ourselves in them. And to better see ourselves in them, let’s say it again in case it is still necessary: all the Gospel narratives about the birth of Jesus –actually all passages in the Gospel, both canonical and apocryphal- are what is called midrashim. That is, they are free commentaries and creative narratives that update and apply to the Child Jesus biblical narratives about ancient figures, legendary or turned into a legend, such as Moses, Samson, Joshua, Ana, Samuel, Elias, David, Judith, Deborah….

Actually, Luke and Matthew knew very little or probably nothing at all about Jesus’ infancy, nor were they even interested in knowing about it. They look deep down into themselves and into reality, they observe people’s hopes and anxieties and, with them in mind, they create stories about Child Jesus, or recreate those transmitted memories about Jesus as preacher of the Kingdom or healer of illnesses; at the same time, they allow the newly created story of Jesus to shed light on the joys and sorrows of the people. They do not want to tell us how Jesus’ birth and his early years were, nor can they do so. They just want to open our eyes, light up our hope, spark our commitment. They want to show us the Jesus rediscovered under the light of the world they see, Jesus as prophet and first glimpse of a world where we all can breathe, eat and laugh at a common table. They want to encourage us to be like the Jesus they describe, and they describe him as the universal Christ that we all are called to become, beyond any ethnic, cultural or religious particular characteristic.

Let’s, then, reread the narrative of the shepherds of Bethlehem with the same freedom Luke wrote it. It is a dark night. A group of shepherds take turns watching over their flocks in the open field. They are poor, marginalized by society and the religious system. They desire peace, the peace justice brings or justice in peace, which they cannot hope for. They do not want the peace of the Roman empire with its invincible power, either for today or for tomorrow. They cannot expect that a Messiah –be it a king messiah or a priest messiah- bring peace. Perhaps God will intervene, they think…But, what could they expect from God, they who were considered to be people of questionable morality and ritually impure and, thus, excluded from the divine benefits of the temple, they who were deprived of the forgiveness and divine peace promised by religion? What can they expect from the “Almighty God” invoked by the powerful and to whom the temple’s priests sacrifice the lambs of their flocks? What can they, ignorant and inferior, expect from the God preached by the doctors of the law? But perhaps another God does exist? What does “God” mean? They could have asked themselves all these questions, just like so many people have asked themselves since ancient times, and we ourselves wonder today.

And, all of a sudden, in the darkness of despair, a light surrounds them and a voice comforts them: “Glory to God in heaven and peace on earth to those God loves! Peace to all creatures and to all human beings without exception, lovable, loved, called to love without exception, beginning with the last ones”. Suddenly, a light is turned on for them. And they set out towards where their heart and light guide them.

In a poor cave-house, the light of their eyes meets the glory of life and of the universe incarnated in the most humble and bright sign: a newborn baby. Jesus, Mary and Joseph. Three names –put other names if you want, yours, those that inspire you most- names that represent all names, all lives, all suffering, the expectation for peace in spite of all. Mystery, Presence. Maximum lowering. The shepherds see it and everything is transfigured, God revealing itself in everything. “There is no more “God Almighty”, could have those shepherds said, just like we say. There is no God of kings with their armies, courtiers and palaces, nor the God of religions with their creeds, clergy and temples. God is the fontal being of all that there is. It is the primeval light from which everything originates and lives ever since. It is the light of the energy that attracts and drives everything. It is the Peace in justice, that active peace, tender and subversive, that creates and constantly recreates everything from transformation to transformation. It is the universal love, stronger than everything, that drives and attracts everything. “We can hope in spite of everything”, the shepherds would tell themselves: breathe, exhale and encourage that cherished world to become real. And, transfigured, they set out on their way.

I want to get on my way, too, behind the last one of those shepherds. We can also get on our way, look deep inside us, feel the others’ wounds as if they were our own, watch the harmony of sunrise and sunset and of the entire living nature, and recognize the peace that sustains and drives us to be present way down in the depths of everything. In this world of global inequity, of the economy ruled by individuals’ interests, of the planetary politics subjected to a few financial powers, of the youth condemned to despair, of nature’s broken equilibria, in this world that seems to be out of its mind and desperately walk towards suicide, in this world where peace seems to be nothing more than resignation to the worst outcome or conformism expressed by “this is all that there is”, in this world it is still possible to see the light and hope and experiment, like the shepherds did, “hope that means being able to see the light in spite of the darkness” (Desmond Tutu).

There we have the sign, too, or one of many signs: Jesus, Joseph and Mary. Amidst the ruins of this broken world, of this our torn world, the light of justice guaranteeing true peace is lit, that light of the peace that justice begets. In the depths of the universe and of each living being, a new world is constantly ignited and sprouts where honors do not fascinate, wealths are shared, powers surrender, a world where justice and peace meet. And in it all sciences and most beautiful works of art are summarized. But that new world depends on us, too, on the small steps we take. “Do good in small amounts, wherever you may be, because all those small pieces together will transform the world” (Desmond Tutu).


Aizarna, January 6th, 2022

Translated by Mertxe de Renobales Scheifler