It’s the shepherds again.
Every day since I wrote this flash fiction piece, my attitude toward Christmas has been one of anticipation rather than anxiety. For the first time in many years, I’m actually looking forward to Christmas in America. And it’s all because of one adverb in Luke’s story about the shepherds.
Just a Shepherd
I imagine the angels found a mix of young and old men in the field that night. Shepherding was a dangerous job in which one had to know the geography of the area and defend the entire flock against both human thieves and animal predators. They wouldn’t have left the nighttime shift to a bunch of “newbies.”
What were the shepherds doing
before the sky lit up?
What were they doing before the sky lit up? Were they singing one of David’s early songs, their voices echoing off the hills? That would be romantic. Or were they arguing about who’s turn it was to deal with a particularly stubborn sheep? That might be more realistic.
We want to think they were particularly noble…somehow worthy of receiving “good tidings of great joy” (Luke 2:10 KJV). But I think they were commonplace, nothing special, a little rough around the edges. One guy probably hit the flask a little too often, and another old curmudgeon criticized him for it. One man probably tended to fall asleep on the job while another was perpetually late for work.
But at the same time, they were something special. Check out these three ways a set of unlikely workmen rise above the ordinary and remain an example for everyone who seeks Jesus.
They were unflustered by the unexpected.
So a bunch of guys, working third shift in a field on the fringe of a backwater little town in Judea, receive a visit from an angel. Who just appears. In the sky. There’s all kinds of “glory” shining around them. Not shining around the angel. Luke says “the glory of the Lord shone around them”—the shepherds. Like, it descended and encompassed them. Could they even see each other? What are they thinking at that moment?
A pastor friend of mine thinks it would “scare the ever loving crap out of” him.
The men are terrified (Luke 2:9) but they stand their ground. I don’t care how many times an angel told me, “Do not be afraid” (2:10), my knees would continue to knock! Especially if there was all this “glory” around me.
The angel delivers God’s message before a bunch of other angels show up. They chant, then they all disappear. The shepherds remain in the field, blinking in the darkness after all that light. They look around at each other…the sheep..the field.
What would you do in this moment? I would call my spouse and check my story against everyone else’s. Maybe I’d go count the sheep.
The shepherds, however, are like, “Hey, let’s go check it out.” Nobody runs off screaming. Nobody faints.
Angel appearances were not common. And while a few false messiahs had popped up now and then, the announcement that a savior had been born…well, you just don’t hear that every day either. It’s true we can’t know what the shepherds were thinking, but their response seems incredibly calm to me.
They were unbounded by obligation.
So the took off toward town. I have so many questions at this point. Did they leave the sheep in the field? Did a couple of shepherds stay back with them? On the other hand, sheep typically followed their shepherd, so did the sheep come into town with them? Was there a lot of baa-ing around the manger? Imagine 100 sheep in and around the stable of your nativity scene. We would all need bigger mantles.
The shepherds’ duty to watch/protect the sheep didn’t stop them from seeking the Savior.
The shepherds’ responsibilities
didn’t restrict their response.
Let me say that again, especially for all the first-borns out there (and people who like alliteration): Their responsibilities didn’t restrict their response.
Luke says they “hurried off” (2:16). **This is the word that has changed my December.** They hurried in a good way, excited to find the tangible Messiah, just as they had been told (2:20). Their “hurry” was one of anticipation, like a child pulling on his mother’s hand as they make their way to the toy section in a crowded department store. Their hurry was not born of obligation, like one more thing to mark off the list so I can get to the next thing.
What’s your approach to Christmas? I’ve spent too many years in the hurry of obligation, anxious that I wouldn’t be able to achieve the idealized picture of Christmas taking up so much space in my head, or weighed down with duties that don’t lighten just because the calendar flips to December. But this year, I’m looking forward to the day, comfortable in the imperfections, letting it be ordinary…like the shepherds were ordinary people looking for an extraordinary child.
Among my multitude of questions, I wonder how the shepherds found the right stable and manger. Well, this question has now been answered! “Bethlehem was a small enough town that searching animal mangers for the one with the baby may not have taken long.” (Thank you, NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible note on Luke 2:15!)
They were unhindered by public opinion.
The tone of the Bible suggests shepherding was something you ended up doing, not something you aspired to do. Shepherds weren’t highly educated, and they probably smelled like sheep…or worse. What’s more, they were supposed to be out in the fields, not wandering through town.
None of these factors hindered their natural response to seeing the newborn Jesus.
When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about his child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. –Luke 2:17
They spread the word.
All who heard it were amazed.
Shepherds were unlikely
carriers of such good news.
What amazed the “all who heard it”? I think people were amazed by the descriptions of angels and by the possibility that the for-real Messiah was now present. I think people were amazed by the juxtaposition of “Messiah” with “manger” when they were expecting a military hero. But I also think people were amazed by the fact that shepherds were the ones telling this story rather than Temple leaders and teachers.
There’s someone who would be amazed to hear your story…someone who would find you an unlikely source of such amazing Truth. Will you let public opinion silence you again this year?
The shepherds: an unlikely lot chosen for an unparalleled opportunity. Isn’t that just like Jesus?
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. -2 Corinthians 4:6-7
That night in the field, God’s glory was displayed in the sky and all around the shepherds–the epitome of “jars of clay”–because (wait for it…) it’s not about me.
What person/group from the nativity story stands out for you this year? How is God using that example to change your Christmas? Alternatively, how does this study of the shepherds alter your perspective moving forward? I would love to hear from you in the comments below!
Other Christmas reflections:
- Last year, it was the Wise Men: Seeking the King.
- In 2017, it was Joseph: Nine Months Before Christmas and Joseph: The Cost of Obedience.
- From 2016, there’s this about unexpected but applicable verses: The Best Christmas Verses in the Bible.
- And 2015 saw a whole series of posts. Just search “Cast of Christmas” in the archives.