It’s almost to the middle of December, and Christmas is nearly here. And we’ve come to the third week of advent. First, there were was hope and prophets, and then peace and angels. This week is about joy and shepherds.
In contrast to the enigmatic prophets and the eonian angels, shepherds are incredibly… earthy.
You are a shepherd.
Shepherding used to be a noble business, it really did. You remember the stories of the shepherds in the time of the Patriarchs and famous King David; he was a shepherd before he was a king, before Adonai had him anointed by a prophet. But shepherding isn’t like that anymore. Heavens, no. A lot of things have changed since the days of David.
First of all, there’s other people. Other Jews don’t like you because you’re a shepherd. You’re treated like a second class citizen, like you’re less than a person. When it comes to society, you are on the very bottom, considered quite nearly valueless.
Then there’s the sheep themselves. Brainless is the word that typically comes to mind. Or witless. Or simply dumb… but in an oddly endearing way.
Your life is solitary. Most of the time, it’s just you and the sheep on the hills outside of Bethlehem, the hometown of the shepherd-king David. The years drag by, and most of them are the same. The rams get the same bad attitude when autumn brings rutting season, then there’s mating season, then a cold winter, then the ewes have their lambs come spring, and then there’s shearing, and the summer is spent teaching the lambs the sound of your voice, and then rutting season comes again. Not much changes for you. Waiting for the next season, waiting for the next predator to fight off, waiting for a lost sheep to find, waiting, waiting, waiting.
You’ve heard of the coming Messiah, the One that Adonai’s sending. He’ll be a Savior, The Savior. The other Jews are eager for the Messiah, but from what you’ve heard from fragments of stories and prophecies, He’s not coming for you. He’s not coming for another shepherd after His own heart. He’ll set Israel free from its oppressors, but that won’t change much for you. You’ll still be shunned by your own people. You’ll still be alone with the sheep.
Another year passes, and before you know it, winter has come. One night, you’re laying with your back against a rock. Your crook leans against the rock, and some of the ewes have piled in around you. Your flock rests, and a few hills over, you can see another shepherd’s flock.
And then there’s a flash of blinding light. You scramble to your feet, sheep scattering as you reach for your crook. It’s an angel. You know it as soon as you set eyes on him. He’s tall with a shining face, and he’s absolutely terrifying. He must be an angel. You start to back away, holding your crook with shaking hands. There’s so much light and dazzling glory. Perhaps you should follow your sheep as they run away.
But then the angel speaks. “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.”
Don’t be afraid, good news, something about joy and all people. You don’t run, but your shaky legs give out and you fall to your knees. The angel continues. “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.”
You blink, and suddenly, there are thousands with the first angel, a multitude of angels saying like thunder, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!”
And then the angels leave as quickly as they came, and you are alone. The air is startlingly cold and quiet. It starts to sink in. A Savior is born, just a few hills away in Bethlehem. Good news of great joy for all people. Unto you is born this day. This will be the sign for you. You will find a baby.
Another shepherd skids to a stop beside you. “Did you see them? Did you see the angels?”
You nod and use your crook to shove yourself to your feet. You’re not as young as you once were, but you take off at a run.
“Where are you going?” the other shepherd shouts after you.
“To Bethlehem!” you yell back. “To see this thing that has happened.” You trip and tumble down a hill, but then you’re up and running again. You come to the top of the next hill and throw your arms wide, jubilant. “Hallelujah!” And then you’re off, sandals slapping the earth. You pass another shepherd who is still wonderstruck from the angels. “Come with me to Bethlehem!” you shout to him.
The angels were right. This is good news, and it’s brought such great joy. You were wrong when you thought the Savior wasn’t coming for you. For all people. And all people includes you.
People have come up with lots of theories to explain why God sent a multitude of His host to some shepherds who were the lowest of the low. Personally, I think the angel put it quite eloquently when he said the news was for all people. Our response to the good news of Christ should be the same as the shepherds’: joy. And they’re joy isn’t something they kept to themselves; they went and “made known the saying that had been told them”
This week, I encourage you to look for ways to be joyful in light of the coming of Christ and what it means for all people. Praise God; give Him glory. And then go tell someone.
Some passages to look at are: Luke 2:8-20, John 3:16-18, Philippians 4:4, and 1 Thessalonians 5:16.