Keeper of the Flock

By Marcy Barthelette

Shepherds? What a motley crew! Grubby, dirty, smelly, almost as beastly as the animals they tend….lowest of the low. They care for sheep!

 Day after day they keep their charges from wandering off a cliff or into water over their heads as sheep are known to do. Night after weary night the shepherds corral their wayward sheep and keep them from the grip of dangerous predators, whether they be hungry mountain lions and wolves or human poachers. To say that the shepherd leads a lonely and rather boring life would be a gross understatement by our standards, probably by any standard. So why where they chosen by God to be the first besides Mary and Joseph to witness the birth of the Savior of the world?

That night some shepherds were in the field outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep. TLB

As with every character in this very important and seemingly impossible drama, we know very little about these specific shepherds. We know that shepherding was not a particularly respected occupation and that those who accepted the responsibility were not well educated and certainly did not become rich from their labors. They spent the greater portion of their lives in the company of animals. They were of varying ages and marital status and probably never moved beyond their nearly non-existent social circles. But God chose them for an extraordinary adventure and it began on a dark, quiet night when suddenly, the heavens burst forth in incredible light:

An angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
Luke 2:9 NLT

Really! Bright lights and an alien creature, in the middle of the night! These shepherds hadn’t signed up for this.

But the angel said to them. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. Luke 2:10-12 NLT

Wow! How do these wooly guys, wakened from a deep sleep, respond to such a profound revelation. Remember their job is pretty boring, so maybe a little excitement was welcomed. And maybe, because they were not highly educated, they found it easier not to question the message. Scholars may have scoffed, bankers may have laughed, teachers may have cited proof from their written words that this could not have happened. But shepherds? These guys are accustomed to being down and dirty; they had no expectations beyond getting a good night’s sleep. They were willing to take up the adventure.

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” Luke 2:15 NLT

There must have been some serious discussion following such an announcement. The shepherds may have even wondered why the angel chose them for such an invitation but they were a curious bunch and were eager to check out the story. They also had sheep to consider, so how could they go about this journey? Should they travel in shifts so that their sheep would not be left alone? How many shepherds were in that particular field on this night? How far must they travel; Is Bethlehem just over the hill or farther away? And must they inspect every manger they encounter in the hope of finding a baby wrapped in cloths? Perhaps some scoffed, “We’re not going on a wild goose chase to find a baby in a feed trough because some unknown spirit burst into our sleep with lights and noise and a message about a Savior. Nope, that’s not going to happen. We’re staying here!” Was this, perhaps, the first time humanity disagreed about the validity of the Messiah? Or were these men chosen because they symbolized the future of this baby as the “shepherd” of all mankind?

We’ll never know all the answers. So much was left to our imaginations because God wants us to seek. But we do know that shepherds went to Bethlehem. They went because they were searching, like all of us, for a promise of better things to come. They stepped out in faith because the angel had come to their lonely field on a dark night and filled the sky with the brightness of hope and a promise of peace to those who would believe.

The angels came in the night because that is when lights are best seen and that is when they are most needed. God comes into the common for the same reason. His most powerful tools are the simplest. Max Lucado, Linger Near the Manger

Follow the journey of the shepherds next week….

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