"And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear." - Luke 2:8-9
These are the Luke passages immediately following the birth of Jesus. You know it, “Shepherds abiding in the field,” etc. So many carols are written about this. This deals with birth, not mission, not death, not resurrection. What in the world has this to do with Lent?! These verses are not Lenten, ask me in December! Maybe we should just skip this passage. How can this offer anything to help understand Lent? It took me a few reads, but here’s my thought.
The shepherds, just going about their business, faced an angel, and “were filled with fear?” What does this mean? Well, Hebrew has at least two words that our current Bible translates as “fear.” Pachad means irrational, lizard-brain, fight or flight (or freeze) style fear. Think stepping into your crawlspace, only to look to your left and see, inches from your face, a black widow spider. Yirah, on the other hand, is more akin to “awe.” Think a cold rainy day ending in a quick clearing with a bright red and purple sunset, clouds rimmed in gold, like the entire view is lit from behind (which it is)! Something so wonderful that you cannot comprehend it.
So, which was it, afraid or awed, panicked or thrilled? Both work for Lent, I think. We all go through life afraid: afraid for our kids, parents and spouses; afraid about our jobs and financial prospects; afraid for our country; afraid of sickness and death. We often are so afraid that we can’t sleep, can’t move! The Resurrection is meant to alleviate that fear. We are shown to whom we belong and where we will be in the end. We also are in awe of God and the story of Jesus. Why does God love us so much that he sent His Messiah to us; to live among us; to teach us; to die on purpose, in one of the worst ways imaginable; as atonement for our sins; only to appear, resurrected, three days later? It is mind-boggling, incomprehensible, thrilling. It is both known and a great mystery. How can we believe something so amazing? So, those shepherds in the field react just as we do, in panic, in awe (probably both), but trusting the message and praising God as they do what they were told, walking down the hill to a small stable in Bethlehem. We also walk, trusting that the path to the cross eventually leads to Resurrection and our Lord. That is Lent to me.