they say, were the fools of their day,
the ones who were butts of the jokes—
Fred Flintstone with sheep, Homer Simpson asleep,
imperfectly ordin'ry blokes.
nobody famous, just some ignoramuses
anyone might string along—
neither pious or holy, they take things in slowly
and often get much of it wrong.
out on the down, looking over the town,
feeling vaguely that life's passed them by,
just minding their own, prob'ly having a moan,
when an angel gatecrashes their sky.
Well, the herdsmen took fright at this startling sight
(some rustic expletives were spoken)
while the seraph looked round at the desolate ground
and decided his satnav was broken.
He’d expected to come to a media scrum
for a major announcement like this,
to communicate to the good and the great
the arrival of endless bliss.
Celebs should be present, not a handful of peasants
at night on a freezing moor:
such a strange target market for heralds to hark at—
yet he’d seen something like it before.
He’d been sent to appear somewhere north of Judaea
to an unmarried teenage maid
with a tale so alarming he oozed his most charming
“My dear, you must not be afraid!”
He explained her behaviour had put her in favour
with the heavenly powers that be,
and to tell her bridegroom that she’d have to make womb
for a special delivery.
To the angel’s surprise she looked straight in his eyes
and said, “Fine, but I don’t figure how,
because Joseph and I haven’t yet… “ he said “My,
we don’t need go into that now!”.
He covered his fluster with angelic bluster:
“Don’t question the method—believe!
He has strategies still to accomplish his will
of which you could never conceive!”.
He was struck by her youth and the staggering truth
he had just so abruptly confided
when the girl bowed her head and quietly said:
“Let it be as the Lord has decided.”
It was going quite well (though he then had to tell
the fiancÚ, and scared him to heck—
a small jobbing builder who hardly fulfilled an
ideal foster-God-parent spec).
Now the nine months are through and the baby is due
and it’s time to inform them of why,
so here he is talking to these faces gawking
wide-open-mouthed up to the sky.
As Gabriel hovered, he felt deeply bovvered:
this was really a bit of shambles—
teenagers, brickies, now this group of . . . thickies—
they seemed such extraordinary gambles.
Here's God planning to save everyone from the grave
and you’d think he’d be quite risk averse,
keep his cards to his chest and use only the best—
not entrust everything to the worst.
It was almost as though he was trying to show
that he didn’t need forceful or clever—
give him any lame horses or dodgy resources,
he was going to fix it, whatever.
Gabriel thought back a bit, and it started to fit
when considering what it all meant:
God's resolute choices of renegade voices
were more than an accident.
He thought down the ages of prophets and sages
whose hopes of success seemed like zero—
Abraham, Nehemiah, David, Ruth, Jeremiah,
each one an improbable hero—
he thought of the stories of unlikely glories,
of Joseph, sold off without pity,
of Gideon the nerd and Elisha—absurd!—
and a brass band that blew down a city,
for that's how it is, this behaviour of his,
it's his modus operandi
to choose the obscure or the dull or the poor—
frankly, anyone who's handy,
and at last it was plain to his angelic brain
that the God he was messaging for
would be nobody now so that all—anyhow—
would be somebody for evermore.
Gabriel took out his scroll and let it unroll
and said “OK, you lot, listen up.
Those who’ve told you the prize is reserved for the wise
would appear to have sold you a pup,
for a Saviour is born this remarkable morn
and his name it is Christ, the Lord”—
then he added a bit that seemed awfully fit
but that Luke somehow didn’t record:
“One day this child will see men reconciled
in a world that's been turned upside down,
where the best will be worst, the last will be first
and a beggar can carry a crown.
You’ll find him down there, in a room cold and bare,
and it looks like a pauper’s birth,
but what’s born here is peace that will spread without cease
till it reaches all people on earth.”
Then the angels joined in with a heavenly din
Deo Gloria in Excelsis
for the child that’s now grown, and the grace that’s been shown
is ours—and everyone else’s.
beginning of this poem was originally as Modus operandi
, written to
follow the reading of
the story of the shepherds and angels in Luke 2, 8-20
as part of A
Christmas commentary for the carol service at
The longer poem was written in 2013 and first read at the midnight Communion service at St Johns that year.
I have heard from various sources that shepherds were a target of humour at the time of Jesus, and so his illustrations of the lost sheep and the good shepherd would have carried an additional edge to a contemporary audience ("Stupid shepherd, leaving 99 sheep unguarded so he can rescue one lost one...") . I've no idea whether this is true or not, but it seems plausible.
This poem has no connection with the (probably) first century stone table known as "Gabriel's Revelation": the naming is coincidence.
Typical performance time: 4 minutes 30 seconds.