John writes: "I am a retired Quality Assurance Engineer and a prison minister."
The Shepherd's Christmas
A few hours into his long night’s watch, the young shepherd stood guarding his
flock. The sheep lay sleeping, having filled their bellies on rich green
grasses and quenched their thirst from clear still waters. Each sheep had been
inspected and an ointment applied to their heads to keep insects from disturbing
them. The shepherd had given careful attention to the young unblemished lambs
that were few among the flock. As was the Abrahamic tradition, these
sacrificial lambs were his highly valued possession and were to be closely
guarded day and night. This was his night watch. It was his ancient duty
recently entrusted to him by his older brother who slept nearby, leaning against
an outcropping of a large smooth rock.
From a distance, he could hear the lonely song of another shepherd standing watch over his flock. Each in his solitude was grateful for the watchful eye and ear of the other. Their combined effort to search beyond their flocks into the dark surrounding fields for hungry prey was understood by each of them. All was calm and quiet. All was well on this silent night in the fields outside of Bethlehem.
Suddenly, there came a heavenly event in the dark skies that would forever change these lowly shepherds; would change the world. The young shepherd prodded his sleeping brother awake with his staff. “Get up, brother, there’s something happening,” he cried out. Fear gripped the shepherds until an angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them. These simple men had never seen an angel. They fell to the ground to hide their faces. The sheep stirred but remained asleep.
The angel spoke to them saying, “You have nothing to fear! I come to proclaim good news to you – tidings of great joy to be shared by the whole people. This day in David’s city a savior has been born to you, the Messiah and the Lord. Let this be a sign to you: in a manger you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes.” Hearing this, the shepherds lifted their eyes to the skies to see a multitude of heavenly hosts praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another,”Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this event which the Lord has made known to us.” They went in haste into the town whose name means “House of Bread.” They left their flocks behind, unguarded by humans. They acted in trust of the angel’s words of proclamation; their attention was on the miraculous sight of the Infant Lord that they were about to behold.
Approaching the manger, the shepherds fell to their knees several feet away from the Infant’s crib. “May we draw closer to see his face, please?” they begged. Their chests heaved and lungs burned from running from their fields into the city in search of the child. “We are dirty from the fields. Our clothes are ragged and dusty. Our hands are unclean. Dear lady, we have no gift for your Child, except our hearts that pound with excitement in our chests. We ran from the fields when the angel of the Lord told us of his birth. We left our flocks unattended. We must trust His angels to guard them while we are away.” Their trembling hands reached out towards the Child’s parents in their plea for permission to come into His presence. “Is it true? Is this child really the Lord? they asked. They waited for the Mother’s response in silent hope.
“Come near,” was Mary’s reply. He is sleeping but I will hold him up for you to see.” The shepherd’s eyes shifted to Joseph, who nodded in agreement with his wife. The men crawled close to the Child and his mother. None dare stand in the holy presence of the Lord. “Welcome, to the world, Lord. We are unworthy beggars before you.” they uttered to the Child. They could speak no other words. Time stood still in their hearts as they gazed upon the face of the Child and an understanding of the angel’s proclamation came to them. These lowly men, of no account to the rich townspeople or to the priests and scribes of the synagogue, were the first human visitors to the Infant Christ, the Messiah.
Christ is first revealed not to honorable and distinguished witnesses. He passed by them, and chose shepherds, humble men of no account among men of rank. God’s promise in Chapter 3 of the Book of Genesis, the “seed of woman” had been fulfilled. This awesome knowledge was imparted to men and in a manner that God saw fit. Our God Incarnate who became the Word made flesh, Christ the Messiah, The Bread of Life and The Lamb of God was first welcomed into the world by lowly shepherds. After all, their work was to raise and protect the unblemished lambs that would be sacrificed at the coming Feast of Pentecost. By the Spirit, they would understand the simple, purposeful and holy name, “Lamb of God.” The Infant Child that was refused a decent space for birth in the town of Bethlehem had been given space in the hearts of simple men; had become their first Christmas gift. Their hearts burned with joy, as they humbly received this gift of God’s grace. They believed. They understood. They would be the first human messengers of Christmas. God’s wisdom, seen as foolishness in the eyes of most men, exceeds all human wisdom that will ever exist in the world. For, this too was a part of Christ’s “emptying of himself.
The shepherds each returned to their flocks, and found all of the animals safe and secure in the early dawn light. These uneducated men who lacked rank and were denied entry to the Temple of God, were now filled with an understanding of the first Christmas that came from the Holy Spirit; from having been in the Child God’s presence. Wonderful images of the Blessed Infant and joyful thoughts of their first Christmas now filled their hearts. They reveled in the dirt and dust on their clothing that marked them as lowly men of worth by their Savior. Their eyes searched the awakening dawn where,in its passing dark night, great hosts of angels had sung in glory to God. Their lives were forever changed. Their duty to their task was now clearer than ever. Their lonely night’s watch would never again be the same. They had seen the face of The Lamb of God, The Good Shepherd.
(© 2012 John Miller – All rights reserved. Written material may not be duplicated without permission.)