Ever wondered why the debut of the Christ child was to borrow a line from a carol to “certain poor shepherds?” Of all the demographics to chose from why shepherds? Why not the religious scholars who were supposedly up to speed on this epoch moment in history? Or possibly the governmental aristocracy? Why poor, uneducated, disdained sleepy shepherds in a field? Shepherding is probably the oldest occupation in the world dating back 6,000 years. The first shepherd in scripture was Abel the son of Adam. This primeval vocation, though prevalent throughout scripture, was considered to be menial work. In the time of Jesus they were culturally ostracized to the point they were not even allowed to testify in court. The narrative of this seminal moment in history is too involved to be adequately addressed in this short blog. I want to consider a few threads of relevancy in this story that have been worn smooth with familiarity in the wake of 2011 Christmases.
Bear with me as I connect the history with the contemporaneous. It is safe to say that the flocks they were tending were not common livestock kept for fleece or mutton. There is good evidence they were sheep earmarked for sacrifice. They wouldn’t be consumed, but were consecrated to be offered in the temple which is quite telling in and of itself. These blue collar laborers were “keeping watch over their flocks by night.” Their vigilance was for at least two reasons. One, predators typically are on the prowl in the darkness giving them an edge on their prey. Secondly, the ewes often birthed their lambs during the night hours. Newborn lambs still covered in afterbirth with spindly legs struggling to stand up in the minutes after delivery were an easy meal for carnivores crouching in the darkness. The scent of life and death was in the air. Mary’s water has broken, she is in the last stage of labor and at the same time bleating little lambs are being birthed. The parallels are stunning.
The shepherds were not prepared for what happened on that faithful night. The momentous was about to collide with the monotonous. Angels appearing in brilliant light ambushed them. A silent night was disrupted with their thunderous proclamation of His birth. The KJV translation says they were “sore afraid”, meaning they were in shock. Surprised, speechless, dumfounded doesn’t even begin to describe their condition. We, too, like the shepherds of old are struggling to stay awake in the spiritual sleepiness of our times. However, as it was then, an awakening is coming. The irony of this encounter is that it happens in the shadow of the temple where organized religion is oblivious to the meteor of glory that had just made sudden impact. The common man could hear and see, but the clergymen were both deaf and blind to the shock and awe emanating from heaven. There are a number of sudden happenings in scripture and each of them brought a revelation of God’s nature and purposes that resulted in dramatic change. I think we are due for a repeat performance. This suddenly happened in a field which is a scriptural synonym for the world. In the days ahead the world may get it before we do. The shepherds made haste abandoning their flocks to find the place where He laid. These common men possessed an uncommon discernment that enabled them to behold both the Lamb and the Shepherd in a mere infant. Maybe we have been looking in all the likely places without realizing He is often found in unsterile and unholy venues rather than in the hallowed halls of religion. Priests will awake the next morning to practice their tired religious rituals in the dim light of a fading temple. Herod the corrupt governmental tyrant will shuffle to his plush throne as he had every morning before to oppress the people. However, during the night the Priest and King had taken His place in a crude feeding trough. Be assured, we are 2011 years removed from these events we are about to get the shock of our life. We will be ambushed from heaven with an announcement in these days when religious and political corruption abounds. The truth that permeated the atmosphere that night, “GLORY TO GOD IN THE HIGHEST, AND ON EARTH PEACE, GOODWILL TOWARD MEN” will once again lighten the night sky.