If you go to a small Christian village outside of Bethlehem called Beit Sahour, you can find the fields where tradition has it the shepherds encountered the angel telling them that the Messiah was being born down the road in Bethlehem.
If you were on a tour bus today and asked the driver to take you to that "Shepherds' Field," your driver would have to think for a minute. He or she will have a choice to make. The choice might depend on the driver's own faith tradition. Or it might depend on what she thinks you want. Or it might depend on whose souvenir shop, outside of which entrance, he has an arrangement with to get a cut of whatever you purchase. It might even depend on how much time you have for this little detour. All this because there are actually three places in that little village identified as the Shepherds' Field.
The most often visited field is the place claimed by the Roman Catholics and run by the Franciscans. There's a lovely chapel there, and a cave where you can see where the shepherds probably slept and how folks lived in the Palestine of 2000 years ago. There's a display of the Holy Family there, replete with place for baby Jesus--even though that's not what is said to have happened in that place.
Your driver might also take you to an even older place, which Eastern Orthodox Christians claim to be their Shepherds' Field. Here are vestiges of ancient devotion, with discovered remains of fourth, fifth, sixth century churches and more.
Yet if your driver figures you out and decides you're more the social action type, you might be driven to the local YMCA. It's built where some Protestants have claimed a place where the angel told the frightened shepherds about Jesus.
Three places, confused for at least 1600 years.
One can dismiss this confusion to silly Christian disunity and argument. Or one can see a parable of Christmas in it all. I'm sure it's both, but I'll go with the parable for now. For do we not all start in different places on our way toward Bethlehem? Do we not need to encounter the angel wherever we find ourselves, get caught up by both fear of and desire for the One who will save us from ourselves—no matter our life experience?
Christmas calls us from some very different fields to take a journey to the same place. We're directed to the place right next to the trough that's been cleared of food for the donkeys and made welcoming to this One born among us. We're invited to be taken in by the same baby's face that arrests our attention, that woos us away from fear and toward Love.
Each of us, called from our own places, can find Christmas when we discover that in some small way we're no longer the one seeing, but that we are ourselves the ones being seen—right there in Palestine, and right here in our own place and in our own time. It happens when we let this Jesus see us. It happens when we let him see into our very souls, to welcome us from our various fields of life so we can enter a new home--rough hewn, but beautiful. It happens when we find ourselves right next to other shepherds from other flocks in other places who have found there way to this very same place.
And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:20)