Forty years ago I bought an Christmas creche from some little discount store on Bloor Street in Toroonto. It was little, hard plastic and cheap–all desirable characteristics for impoverished students living in a garret flat on Lansdowne Avenue. It still graces my sideboard, under the miniature fibre-optic Christmas tree.
After a few years it started to bother me that it had the Holy Family, two small sheep, the ox, the ass, and the Magi—but where or where were the shepherds? Over the years, I’ve looked and pondered:–why are most nativity scenes like mine–all the participants, from the Christ Child to Mary-and-Joseph, the animals, the angelsl, the Magi–but No Shepherds. Sure, they were no account people in the ANE–Palestine of 4 BC, but they were the first witnesses to the the Incarnation!!
This year I got intentional. I went first to the local Christian store. Only one creche had shepherds and it was much too big to fit in my tiny living room and No, Ma’am, we don’t sell individual shepherds. So I went to the local discount store. Significantly, the natiivity scenes were pretty much gone–only a forlorn angel was left. As I was leaving the mall, I spotted a kiosk called, “Everything for Christmas.” I asked if they had any shepherds. The new Canadian who manned/personned the kiosk looked puzzled, so I asked if she had any Christimas angels, well, yes, on one prong of her rack she had a single angel, no “baby Jesus,” no “Mary-and-Child,” no Magi, just the angel and a clergyman in his Christmas robes. I walked out of the mall, and pondered the significance of all this.
Why do we have manger scenes with the Holy Family, maybe some animals, and maybe the Three Wise Guys–but no shepherds, Does it reflect our gimme, gimme gifts for Christmas? Does it reflect our oblivion to the panhandler on the street, to the intoxicated old man we see staggering down the street? Hmm, I wonder as I wander…