Sheep...seriously? At Christmas?
Have you ever noticed that God seems to have been a little partial to shepherds? I guess it follows then that the Father thinks rather a lot of sheep as well! Would it surprise you to know that I saw shepherds driving flocks of mottle-coated sheep whilst in Israel? Quite a remarkable site actually.
The most glorious of the three yuletide visitations is to shepherds who are guarding their sheep on a rocky hillside one night outside of Bethlehem.
Suddenly an angel appears to them, surrounding them with the light of God's brilliant glory. If any are dozing, they aren't any longer! "Do not be afraid," the
angel seeks to assure the shepherds. Remarkably these
shepherds are the first people told about the birth of Jesus
in nearby Bethlehem. Why? Why are these, so lowly in society, honored to have this special announcement? Simply, shepherds are special to God.
David, a 'man after God's own heart' was a shepherd boy before he was chosen the second king of Israel. In his 23rd psalm, David sang "Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need! He lets me rest in meadows green and leads me beside the quiet streams."1 Hmm, I think of the times I have read the verses of that meaningful psalm to sick and dying friends, and how it wrought such tender comfort. One young woman in her last days of breast cancer was suffering from restless leg syndrome; her family's words just could not calm her. After I quietly read that psalm to her, her legs were still.
Jesus himself would say, "I am the good shepherd ... I know my sheep and my sheep know me."2 This image moves me so very much. I believe that the announcement went to the shepherds first because Jesus himself identifies with the role of the sheep-herder.
Understand that the Eastern shepherd was, and still is, very different from he who raises tattooed, computer-chip laden sheep in many parts of the rest of the world. In Jesus' day, the shepherd raised the sheep from the time they were lambs and maintained responsibility for them twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for the sheep's lifetime. The very ones that would have been privy to the lit-up sky and glorious singing of the angels were raised primarily in the Judean countryside that was rocky, hilly, and had its share of ravines; grass was sparse. The shepherd always led the sheep--nurturing them, leading them to grass and clean water, and into a fold for safety at night. The shepherd knew their names, and when he called them, they recognized his voice-his special call, and followed him. https://vimeo.com/43733804
Now I see why Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd.
My final thought on this announcement to the shepherds--the angels announced 'JOY' for all people.
"I bring you good tidings of great joy
that will be for all the people.
Today...a Savior has been born...Christ the Lord."
All people want joy, and yet like its sister, contentment, joy eludes most. Ah, I like to think of the sheer joy that the Father felt as he watched the angels' announcement of the birth of his beloved Son to simple men, followed by the grand choir singing. I am confident his heart was filled with joy.
Dear friend, did you know you fill God's heart with joy? "The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing."3 God rejoices over you! You make God smile. Don't worry, son... don't worry, daughter - God will quiet you with His love. Let him. Let him quiet you with his love.
The Good Shepherd loves you this Christmas!
and that is goooood news.
Merry Christmas, dear friends!
1 - The Living Bible, Psalm 23
2 - from John chapter 10
3 - Zephaniah 3.17