Luke 2:8-18 (CEB), The Shepherds
8 “And there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the field, and keeping watch by night over their flock. 9 And lo, the Angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone about them, and they were sore afraid. 10 Then the Angel said unto them,
‘Be not afraid: for behold, I bring you glad tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people, 11 That is, that unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign to you, Ye shall find the babe swaddled, and laid in a cratch.’
13 And straightway there was with the Angel a multitude of heavenly soldiers, praising God, and saying,
14 ‘Glory be to God in the high heavens, and peace in earth, and toward men good will.’
15 And it came to pass when the Angels were gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said one to another, ‘Let us go then unto Bethlehem, and see this thing that is come to pass, which the Lord hath showed unto us.’
16 So they came with haste, and found both Mary and Joseph and the babe laid in the cratch. 17 And when they had seen it, they published abroad the thing that was told them of that child.18 And all that heard it, wondered at the things which were told them of the shepherds.19 But Mary kept all those sayings, and pondered them in her heart.
20 And the shepherds returned glorifying and praising God, for all that they had heard and seen, as it was spoken unto them.“
Of all the people God could have chosen to whom to announce the birth of His Son, why would He choose shepherds? Even the kings who brought the gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh did not receive such a celestial announcement. Consider “Emanuel, God with us” and these things regarding shepherds “abiding in the field,” grazing their sheep on the open land:
Shepherds leave the comfort of their human homes, where they naturally belong, to be with the sheep, in the natural environment of the sheep.
Jesus left His home in Heaven to be with us in our Earthly environment. As humans, shepherds hold the right to sleep, eat and drink among humans. Shepherds spend enough time with sheep, helping them with their sheep-circumstances in their sheep-environment, they end up even smelling like sheep. Shepherds lay aside the rights and dignity that go along with their human identity to live among the sheep. As God, Jesus had the right to continue to enjoy the benefits merited by His identity in Heaven. He laid aside the rights that go along with His Divine identity to live among us.
Shepherds, even though greater, more complex and more powerful than any sheep, come to be seen by the sheep as “one of the flock”.
Shepherds spend enough time among the sheep to become familiar and trusted. This means whereas other humans are innately untrustworthy to a sheep, a shepherd is a human who becomes trusted by the sheep, due to his time spent among them. The sheep’s experience of a shepherd’s gentleness, kindness and faithful provision makes a shepherd a person the sheep are able to relate to, and even accept as part of their flock. Jesus only as God in Heaven may seem to us so different, so much greater, so powerful as to seem unapproachable to us. He is omnipotent, infinite God, while we are finite, limited humans. Similarly, shepherds are complex, higher-order thinking humans, and sheep are simple sheep. Both are relationships of an imbalance of power that can (even should) inspire fear in the weaker member of the relationship, were it not for the love of and compassion of the More Powerful party, and his/His desire to provide for, comfort and protect the weaker. Jesus as God, became “one of our flock”. He became familiar because He was among us in physical form. He become more knowable to us because of His sharing our experience of what it feels like to live a human life.
Shepherds subject themselves to share in the consequences of the same environment and circumstances of the sheep.
Shepherds eat while sheep rest or graze nearby. They draw drinking water from the same water source. They sleep on the same ground. When it is hot where the sheep are, the shepherds are hot. When it is cold where the sheep are, the shepherds feel cold. When it rains where the sheep are, the shepherds get wet. Jesus experienced all the circumstances we all go thru as part of being in the environment of planet Earth. He knows our pain, struggles, worries and fears. He knows our joys, victories & successes. He has felt them. He had His own in His own lifetime; He witnessed others He knew & loved experience theirs during His lifetime here. He gets it.
The needs and priorities of the sheep are shared by the shepherd. Since he lives among them, what affects the sheep, be it weather, hunger, thirst, injury, illness, danger, or prosperity, affects the shepherd. It affects what he experiences physically and emotionally. It affects what he thinks about. It affects his actions, decisions and plans. What is good for the flock is good for the shepherd. A genuine contentedness between sheep and shepherd develops over time spent together, the same way a gardener’s garden becomes a part of the gardener. It is a bond created by time spent, by experiences shared, by the shepherd pouring his energy, creativity and effort into the well fare of the flock. What hurts or threatens the flock hurts or threatens the shepherd. Together they are subjected to the same circumstances. Whatever happens to one party happens to or directly affects the other. They are interdependent. Inseparable.
Knowing these things helps my trust in My Shepherd. It reminds me of Who Jesus is, that He came to live His own life-time on Earth in order to reconcile & forever heal our broken relationship with Holy Father God. It makes this truth dig into my heart more deeply.
When I am afraid of what the future will bring;
of how I will be able to function with uncertain health;
when I worry about the struggles of my children;
when I fear death,
or grieve in the loneliness left behind by those in my life who have already gone on to Heaven before me;
when I just want the pain to STOP at any cost and my mind is too crowded with agony to have room for nice philosophies and pretty ideas,
—it gives me Tangible comfort knowing that the Holy Spirit Jesus left behind “as a deposit guaranteeing what is to come” is the same Spirit present in that tiny baby born in obscure circumstances that God was SO EXCITED about, He wanted to announce it to shepherds, the kind of people who could best relate to what He was doing since they do it all the time!
2 Corinthians 1:21-22 (NIV)
21 “Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set His seal of ownership on us, and put His Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.”
It tells me there is nothing I am going thru, nor that I am afraid I may go thru, that He has not already experienced, witnessed nor cared about. It tells me whatever happens to me, is happening to Him, too. I am not alone. I do not suffer without the compassion and attention of Almighty God. I do not grieve alone. I am not the only one concerned about my future and what happens to me. No matter what happens, I am not left in my needs without provision, comfort, attention.
When it rains on the sheep, the Shepherd gets wet. A shepherd by definition is someone who is not only capable of doing something about adverse circumstances, He intrinsically cares to. What affects me, affects my Shepherd. He has a plan. I can trust Him. He cannot forget about my needs any more than He can forget about Himself. My needs are His needs, and His are mine. I need to remember to call out to Him, to listen to His voice, to focus on thankfulness for what He provides, and just keep following because He is the worthy Shepherd.
I do not believe I control the outcomes of my prayers with my faith nor lack there of. It has taken me many years to accept that and make peace with it, but I have learned I do not need Him to act for me based upon my demands I make of Him dictated by my fears. I only need Him to act for me according to His love, His wisdom, His unfailing mercy and compassion. I can trust Him, walk with Him, just keep listening for His voice and following where He leads. If my path ends up taking me places I would rather not go, it Cannot mean He has forgotten nor abandoned me! That is not possible.
Sometimes I see miracles: Mountains will fall instantly and the Earth will shake. Sometimes the miracle will be peace in my heart that carries me thru hardship. Sometimes the miracle will be a new idea, a new relationship, a new opportunity or a new lesson learned. Sometimes the miracle will be that I remember to scream toward Jesus thru my tears, telling Him I am angry He has not prevented or changed something painful in my life; crying out to Him that I am hurt or scared out of my mind. That is not irreverence nor lack of faith. That is still walking with Him. That is still faith. And the miracle will be the peace I receive at the end of the catharsis, or whatever other change with which He chooses to respond to me in my crisis.
At this writing, there are many serious things that are unsure in my life. (I am sure you may be facing your own issues, or have had at some point, so you may relate). Right now I face the failure of being physically unable to adequately care for the needs of my family as a wife & mother; challenging relationship issues; recent deaths of loved ones; on-going disfigurement; another (6th) pending surgery; the possibility of heart damage being permanent; and the reality that stage 3 or 4 cancer could revisit me at any time, (sooner, later or never) even with precautions. So yes, grief, suffering & threat of death are too-Present realities for me.
This Christmas, the significance of the shepherds’ presence in the Nativity means to me that there is nothing the future (or present) can bring that My Shepherd won’t be or isn’t with me in the middle of it. Even up to and thru the very Door of death itself.
That is quite a victory to celebrate.
What a gift God gave the world in the form of that Bethlehem baby so long ago!
Enjoy this Christmas season with a new depth of gratitude, faith, hope and comfort.
Kelli Miller, December 2015