To be honest, I love everything about Christmas. But if pressed to name one thing, my choice may seem a bit unusual because I would have to choose the shepherds who visited the baby Jesus. The story of the birth of Christ is rich with meaningful metaphors but there is something about that particular group of men that stands out to me.
Shepherds of biblical times spent long periods of time living among their flocks. These men camped out with the sheep to protect them. It wasn’t an easy job. They often risked their lives for the animals entrusted to them, sometimes facing thieves or predatory animals. This outdoorsy lifestyle did present some drawbacks. Bathing would be sporadic if at all, so we can assume they would be rather dirty, raggedy-looking and (oh, let’s just say it ) stinky. They lived their lives on the outskirts of towns, never really invite in. They were B-list material at best. Yet they are the very people God choose to announce the most incredible event the world had ever seen. Though society had counted the shepherds out, God counted them in.
“But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.
It doesn’t end there. Throughout his ministry, Jesus would refer to himself as the Good Shepherd. Sheep present us with a striking picture of human nature. A shepherd must find food and water for his flock, keep them clean and free of parasites, help them deliver the new lambs each spring, protect them from predators and gather those who wander on a daily basis. The problem with sheep is that they are not very bright animals and notoriously hard to train. Sheep have poor vision and hearing and are slow moving with no natural defenses such as claws or sharp teeth. They can be easily frightened or confused. A shepherd knows that he cannot “drive” them, they must be willing to follow. They do have a powerful instinct for following, but that same instinct has been known to send them blindly following one another over a cliff. Does this all sound disturbingly familiar? No wonder Jesus considers us to be like sheep. Though we may be more intelligent, how many times have we made the same mistake over and over again. We are difficult to teach and stubborn to boot! We have no defense against our enemy Satan and tend to let him to scare and confuse us. Our “Good Sheoherd” is the one who protects us, cares for us, watches over us and will lead us if we choose to follow. In Hebrews 13:20, Jesus is referred to as the “great Shepherd” who brings us back to God. 1Peter 5:4 takes it one step farther. Jesus is called the “Chief Shepherd” who will present his followers with an eternal crown of glory. Here is the Jesus who reigns in Heaven, who has prepared the way and a place for us in his kingdom. He will continue to watch over us in eternity.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
Finally, Jesus calls us to be shepherds too. “Feed my sheep”, he told Peter. Be a shepherd, caring for all those that God puts in your path. Care for physical and spiritual needs and care – just care – about people. Help when help is needed. Feed the sheep that God puts in your life.
Again Jesus said, “Simon, son of John, do you truly love me?” He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”
Singer/songwriter Rich Mullins once said:
” I take comfort in knowing that it was shepherds to whom the angels appeared when they announced Christ’s birth. Invariably throughout the course of history, God has appeared to people on the fringes. It’s nice to find theological justification for your quirks.”
And I guess that is the part that I love the best. God uses those long ago shepherds to illustrate the fact that He can take us with all our quirks and all our faults and still use us for His purposes. I’m sure that shepherds wouldn’t have been the most socially adept men due to their solitary lifestyle. They certainly would have trouble speaking in public, yet God choose them to be the very first missionaries. The shepherds prove to me that God will take all the nonsense that I struggle with and turn it to His good. I just have to remember to listen and then act on God’s words like those shepherds of old did.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.”
Luke 2: 8