FACES OF THE CHRISTMAS STORY: The Shepherds

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night…’ Luke 2:8

 

While others slept in the comfort of their beds, the shepherds were out in the fields at night, taking care of their sheep.

The work of a shepherd was serious business in those days. He practically placed his life on the line for each and every one of his sheep. He would lead them to suitable grazing grounds and protect them at all times. If he needed to sleep, he would herd the sheep into a pen and lie on the ground, across the entrance. If any wolf or predator tried to come in to get some mutton, the shepherd would be the first line of defence. He valued the lives of his sheep, possibly because of the income he would get from their wool or from their sale. But the more time he spent with them, the more he got to know each and every one of them, so that if one got missing he would know, he would search for it, and he would rescue it.

But the shepherds of Luke 2 were more than one, so the flock was probably much larger than a usual flock. While they could have been shepherds of different flocks in the same area, some believe that this particular flock belonged to the temple, a flock out of which the relevant sheep and lambs would be selected for the necessary sacrifices. Away from the bustling streets of Jerusalem, the hill country of Bethlehem was perfect grazing grounds for these sheep. The account does not ascertain if they were temple sheep or not, as the sheep weren’t the focus of the story. The shepherds were. Because that very night God gave them a front row seat at the 3DHD premiere of His salvation plan: God had been born as a human baby that day.

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and God’s glory shone around them. They were scared at the sudden ‘close encounter of the third kind’ … or maybe of the ‘God’ kind. The angel, bursting with joy, said to them, “Do not be afraid; for look, I’ve got good news, great news for you, and it will bring you and all people great joy! For to you, this day in the town of David, a Saviour has been born. He is Messiah, the Lord! Here’s the sign: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger—“

And suddenly, as if one alien invasion wasn’t enough for one day, the night sky was suddenly lit even more as thousands of angels filled the horizon. They were screaming and leaping and shouting their praises to God, filling the air with music and laughter and rejoicing. Their words were summarised as “Glory to God in the highest! And on earth, peace, goodwill toward men.”

It lasted a while, but soon the angels retreated through their portal to continue the after-party in heaven.

(P.S.: We looked into why the angels were so joyful a couple days ago. You could check it out, using the #FacesoftheChristmasStory hashtag)

The shepherds exchanged glances. Had they all seen the same thing? They had? So it … really was true? And soon the amazement at the angelic visit led to the realization of what they had said: Messiah had been born, in David’s town! Just down there!

And they hurried to Bethlehem to find this Baby. When they, they left to announce to anyone in town who listen, the wonderful things they had heard about this child.

Ever wondered what happened to their sheep? These guys prized the angel’s news over whatever advantage they could obtain from their flock. Nothing else could have drawn them away. Maybe they locked the pen before leaving. Personally, I think the sheep would’ve been fine either way.

The shepherds remind us that God came for us, even to the lowest of us all. They had no offices of governance or priesthood. They were just the working-class everyman, the man that worked day to day to put food on the table. But God called them to be the first to see the Baby, the One Who would be their salvation. God prized them, valued them, just as He values us all. He wants us to be a part of what He is doing, to receive the gift that He’s offered to us.

It is also significant because through Scripture, God had led His people like a shepherd. He had rescued them from their messes and protected them. He promised them that He would give them a shepherd who would feed them and be their shepherd (Ezekiel 34:23). He came to be that shepherd.

Since the prophecies came to Israel, Jesus even said in Matthew 15:24 that He had come “…for the lost sheep of Israel.” But now He had come to be a shepherd for the whole world, for as many as would come to His fold. Jesus would later tell us that He is the Good Shepherd. He would say of the Gentiles, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.” (John 10:16)

God had come to lead us to a better place. And the first people He told were shepherds.

He came to be one of us, like one of His sheep, so He knows how we feel and why we do the things we do. And that leads to the even more interesting part of this.

Jesus came to be God’s Lamb on our behalf. (John 1:29)

In the Jewish tradition, a lamb was a very important part of the ceremony for an offering for sin. A lamb without spots or blemishes would be selected and sacrificed as an offering for the sins of the nation. The high priest would sprinkle its blood on the lid of the Ark of the Covenant, a symbol of God’s throne, and the sins of the nation would be covered for that year. There were many other sacrifices for sin that involved lambs. God gave them this tradition as a picture of what He was going to do.

And in the fullness of time, Jesus came to be the Perfect Lamb for us all. He alone was without sin, so He gave His life to be that sacrifice for us. When He rose, He ascended to God’s throne where He is now seated, as the One with all authority and as the One who has completed the sacrifice. Just like the blood on the Ark, Jesus is on the Throne. Now the sins of all who believe in Him are forgiven, because He stood (or sits?) in the gap for us. This is the perfect sacrifice.

God did that for our sakes, when we couldn’t. Like the Good Shepherd that He is. He did it in Himself and by Himself, because He loves us.

Christmas reminds us that God has come to lead us out of the dreary existence we were doomed to, and into a good and fruitful place where He can be with us and we can be with Him. He has come to save us, and He has!

Christmas reminds us that He is always with us, guiding us, leading us, feeding us and protecting us. He knows us all by name, our respective stories, our failures and our triumphs. He is here to bring out His best in all of us.

We don’t have to wander anymore. We don’t have to live without direction or purpose. We don’t have to be slaves to fear anymore.

We do have a Good Shepherd.

 

‘All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way; and the Lord has made to light upon Him the guilt and iniquity of us all…’

Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 53:6

 

5 days to #Christmas

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