The Irvine Tartan ē My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican
sleeping, shepherds keeping
- Infant Holy, Infant Lowly
We have lost the extravagance of
Christmas. The poetry of the
evangelists has been supplanted and in its place meanness and gratification have
gained the upper ground.
large star-lit night served as a canopy for the shepherds keeping watch on the
Bethlehem hillside. Gazing up into
the heavens, youths entrusted with flocks would tell stories as they stood guard.
Perhaps a ewe was giving birth, or possibly a lamb bleated, stirring in
its sleep. A chilly wind touched a
shoulder and a woollen garment was adjusted.
Breath warmed cupped hands briskly rubbed to chase the chill.
hillside stretched into the black infinity of space and the realm of the
shepherds extended to the very edge of creation, and beyond - into an
unfathomable blackness. Punctuating
the skyscape, stars twinkled and charmed the youths and ignited their
imaginations. Constellations were recognized and taught and learned and shared
stories continued to fill the night.
strained, pupils dilated, the stars seemed at once close enough to touch and
beyond the reasonable reach of the outstretched arm whose angular fingers joined
stars and painted on a black canvass the vivid dreams of hope of the least of
the fear that swept over the lads as glory became perceptibleÖ a host of heaven
erupting from the baldachino of the Lordís creation!
Stars now angels and angels now sang, proclaimed, heralded surprising
tidings. Extravagance filled the
moment where limitless heaven yielded myriads of angels announcing the news that
filled, yes filled! the night.
birth, a new life, a promise kept caused hopeful hearts to leap.
Given was a whole life, a completed promise without restriction of new
beginnings and a new day dawning. Extravagance
that can be held in the hands of a midwife, and that can be cradled and cuddled
by a mother. Extravagance that can
be gazed upon in amazement measuring the gift of life that God had promised.
promise was more than a babe. The
glory of the babe would find witnesses in Egypt and Nazareth, witnesses by the
Jordan and in Jerusalem, witnesses in a Garden and on a Hill.
Extravagance would be measured by the span of a manís arms outstretched,
and pinned: arms beckoning to those who would see the extravagance of love and
forgiveness to the needful and broken.
did the dreaming shepherds see this hope lying swaddled and placed on a mattress
of hay? In the serene silence of a
babe fed and cleaned, did the shepherds think for a minute what the future would
unfold in the decades that lie ahead for this newborn?
Did they anticipate the extravagance of redemption that would stretch as
far beyond a young manís years in time as the stars appeared distant to
shepherds on a holy night? Were they
able to crouch, and holding a staff to keep their balance, give expression to the
marvellous thoughts of new life beheld in their gaze?
saw not the Messiah. They saw a
saw not a Cross. They didnít
anticipate a supper at Emmaus. They
saw a child, and in that child they saw the fulfillment of dreams and hopes -
their dreams! They saw their hopes! Extravagance
was revealed in a babeís arms stirring and outstretched, reaching for faces and
fingers that seemed for the babe as far away as those stars that illumined a Holy
Tidings of a gospel true!
Copyright © 2001 James T. Irvine
Image: The Baldachino Canopy (detail), St Andrewís Cathedral, Aberdeen
Photo: Deborah Irvine-Anderson
Van Goghís Starry Starry Night (detail)
penultimate WORD - Festivals of Light Series