The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.-Luke 2:20
All good parties end and the guests disperse. Players and journalists and dignitaries filter out of Qatar as quickly as they arrived. The shepherds leave Bethlehem, having encountered God, and they go on their way, back to the poop-covered fields and grimy, oily-furred sheep.
The shepherds cannot stop talking about what they witnessed. This retelling of what’s been heard and seen can be exhausting for outsiders. Let me tell you something you won’t understand, because I don’t entirely understand it myself, but it has changed my life. This is part of the ritual of remembering, of sense-making. Long-time soccer fans love to recount the games that changed them, where they were when certain games took place. This final is a story we will retell strangers to explain who we are, where we were, why it mattered. The same thing the shepherds did to explain themselves, their joy, their awe.
I wonder if all the shepherds’ friends got annoyed at them for rehashing so much delight. I wonder how long the shepherds held onto that exquisite memory, if it remained shiny and special forever or if they had to work to recapture the magic of the moment.
It is hard to go back to the ordinary after having witnessed magic. The shepherds return to their fields praising God, holding onto the memories.
Perhaps what is most stunning about this World Cup for soccer fans is that it was a fairy tale to watch Argentina win. Soccer fans are not used to receiving justice, in a sport where most scores turn on a single point, where the best team frequently fails to win. It seemed impossible that Messi could claim the trophy precisely because he’d failed to claim it–because the sport is cruel and capricious and we watch it in order to remind ourselves that life is unfair and justice is elusive and we are helpless against the indomitable force of FIFA and economic systems.
Until we aren’t.
The shepherds, who roamed the hillsides raising the wool to clothe the Roman Empire, were not used to living in a just world, either. Having some small shred of evidence that perhaps the world is just and the good are rewarded and salvation will work itself out in our lifetimes–it’s revolutionary.
Of course, the shepherds will witness more injustice in their lifetimes. But they’ll hold onto this, perhaps the aged shepherds will be in the crowd when Jesus feeds the 5,000 decades later. Perhaps the shepherds will fall into ballooning debt and when someone takes their cloak they will hand over their shirt, too. Because they have glimpsed justice in the world, and so they fight for justice.