Dr Di Rayson captures our collective weariness and longing as we begin our Advent journey in 2020.
On the twenty-fourth day of Advent, 2020, Rachel Friebel explores the impact of listening to unexpected and uncomfortable stories.
Good but uncomfortable news
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
When confronted with unexpected information that’s outside of our normal, it is quite natural to feel frightened and to shut down. In our passage today, the angels knew that the shepherds were frightened: they both reassured them and still declared their news. Calls for social justice always have elements of discomfort for me.
There is discomfort in truly looking at myself and my choices. I am not perfect. There is discomfort in continued, genuine engagement with these themes: an intentional journey means risking ongoing discomfort and growth. I am constantly learning about blind spots I never knew I had.
Beyond this, I also feel discomfort at the simplicity of some messages about social justice. I often feel frustrated at one-dimensional ideas presented as an “answer” to complex, ugly issues. I suspect that these types of “solutions” are often borne out of people’s discomfort with pain, their own impulse to remove the suffering and make things tolerable again. I’ve made my fair share of these types of suggestions or approaches: usually when I am feeling particularly frustrated or angry at injustice!
The Good News declared by the angels ushers in both joy and discomfort. There is discomfort in the challenge to live out justice in our day to day lives. There is discomfort in learning how to sit with complex issues, truly facing and learning from the ugliness instead of simply charging in to “make it right”. This path involves a deeper learning. Sometimes the most powerful work we can do involves listening deeply and building the capacity to tolerate the pain. In doing so, nuances, complexities, strengths and potential are revealed.
We are called to both kinds of discomfort: doing and being.
The shepherds were brave enough to be open to the message offered to them. The “good news” about the Messiah wasn’t what they would have expected: instead of a triumphant king, charging in to save the day, the Messiah is a helpless baby lying in an ugly feeding trough for animals. Once again, the shepherds had a decision to make: did they stay open to hear or did they shut down and dismiss? By being brave enough to listen and put aside their expectations, the shepherds encountered the true good news of the Messiah: a message of love, hope, life and justice beyond anything they (or we) could have imagined.
Rachel Friebel is a Family and Relationship Counsellor who lives in Adelaide.