During these early days of Advent, as Thanksgiving has given way to Black Friday, Small Business Saturday and Cyber Monday, ushering in the secular season of sales and anxious economic forecasts; one is left to ponder another response. Rather than unleash the credit or debit card, joining the throngs of holiday consumers, why not recover a little of the spiritual side of the season?
This season of waiting, expecting and hoping is pregnant with promise. It draws us to the nativity story and its fascinating cast of characters. Among them we find the shepherds, the true working men of this tale. They, like the other characters, have a story to tell, and a particular angle from which to tell it. Do you remember the shepherds? These character actors are discovered in Luke 2 between verses 8 and 20. A description of their brief foray unto the Nativity stage might be summarized in the words “lo”, “woe” and “go”.
Having drawn our attention to these shepherds abiding, Luke, in the language of King James says in verse 9: “And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them. ” (Luke 2:9 KJV).
“Lo”? There’s a words we’ve almost lost from our modern day vocabulary. It simply means “look” as in “lo and behold”. Today we might say, “Heads up” or “look out” – drawing someone’s attention to something or someone. That, in fact, is what Luke is doing, drawing our attention to these witnesses of Christ’s birth.
Look around. Get your head up. Notice. That’s the “lo” work of Advent. A call to become observant of the Christ who comes and moves among us. We live in such a look down world right now. Look down at the screen of the phone in your hand. Look down at those who differ from you in thought or culture. Look away from difficult situations of injustice. Look after your own interests. In contrast to all of that Advent is a time to look up at what God is doing in the world. Lo – look!
No sooner have they looked, but what the shepherd’s “lo” melts into a “woe”. Luke tells us (Luke 2:9b KJV) “and they were sore afraid.” In today’s, as well as 16th century’s English, that translates to “woe”. Woe, dude! Woe is me! Either way it works. Our response to God’s, or a messenger of God’s, holiness is appropriately “woe”. That was Isaiah’s response in the vision of Isaiah 6: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips and live among a people of unclean lips” (Isaiah 6:5 NRSV).
Advent’s announcement of a just and good God coming to be among us should shake us a little. In this spiritual season of introspection and reflection (much like its cousin season of Lent) we would do well to get in touch with a little bit of “woe”. Not “woe is me” in the since of feeling sorry for myself. But “woe” who am I, a sinner, in the face of a just, righteous and gracious God? Seems to me our 25 days of December (the secular substitution for Advent) are missing a good dose of woe.
After some reassuring, “good news of great joy” and all that, the shepherds abiding pick their collective jaw up off the pasture and decide to “go”. “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (Luke 2:15 NIV)
Lo led to woe, which drove them to go. They needed to witness the miracle of the manger, the birth of the Messiah. They could not help but go. Here is the joy, the reckless abandon of Advent’s later days. Shepherd’s abiding now abandoning sheep, or perhaps driving them with them. Shepherds on the go.
Does this good news of great joy produce in us the same desire to “go”? Note that their going did not end with the visit to Bethlehem. That was just the beginning. From there they went and “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.” (Luke 2:17 NIV). Returning home, they could not contain themselves: “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.” (Luke 2:20 NIV) Sounds like they were just getting going!
What a patterned response these shepherds give us for Advent. Lo – look, heads up, pay attention, notice God who comes among you. Woe – take stock of your own life, your sin and need of a Savior. Go – rejoice that in the birth of Christ God lives among us, Word made flesh. He’s pitched his tent and moved into the neighborhood. Let’s go to him and rejoice in this greatest of gifts.
How will you respond to Advent? Might I suggest lo, woe and go? When will you look around? How will you repent in the presence of a just and righteous God? To whom will you go with the good news of a Savior, who is Christ the Lord?
Lo . . . Woe . . . Go!