God’s People, part 143: Shepherds

Read Luke 2:8-21

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd sacrifices his life for the sheep.”  (John 10:11, NLT)

When we think of God’s people, we tend to think one of two things. We might think of the Israelites who were God’s “chosen people”, or we might think of specific characters in the Bible. Either way, we tend to idealize the people we are thinking about. For instance, we may think that God’s people are super faithful, holy, perform miracles and live wholly devout and righteous lives. Unfortunately, this idealism enables us to distance ourselves from being God’s people, because we feel that we fall short of those ideals. As such, I have decided to write a devotion series on specific characters in the Bible in order to show you how much these Biblical people are truly like us, and how much we are truly called to be God’s people.

ShepherdsPart 143: Shepherds. We all know the nativity scene, right? Set on a starry night, fairly dark with the exception of the bright star shining down on a basic looking stable. In the stable, there’s Joseph along with Mary hovering over a manger (or feeding trough) with baby Jesus serenely lying in it.

Also in the manger are some sheep, a cow and a donkey. Just at the door of the stable are three kingly looking figures kneeling and giving gifts, while their camels await them outside. Above the door floats an angel pronouncing Christ’s birth. Finally, and no nativity scene would be complete without this, there are shepherds with their flocks, staring in a the babe with awe and wonder.

Seriously, we love the shepherds don’t we. We love that scene where they are outdoors tending to their sheep (a major sign that Christ’s birth was not during the week of the Winter Solstice) and the choir of angels appears to let them know that the son of David, the Messiah, was born that day in Bethlehem! We can imagine the glory of it all; however, the glory is where we end up getting lost in this story.

Shepherds were not a favored group of people in society. They were often viewed as outsiders because they lived apart from societies and were mostly nomadic. Almost always, shepherds were hired hands, tending to the sheep of others. What’s more, it was single men without children who became shepherds.

In some families, the shepherd was a part of the family. In those cases, the shepherd was usually either a youth or an elder who was not able to do harder work. The best Biblical example of this is in the story of David, who was out tending to the family’s sheep when Samuel came to anoint one of Jesse’s children as king. David was almost passed over because he was the youngest and out in the fields when Samuel arrived.

The point is, the Shepherd was pretty low on the totem pole in ancient Israel. As outsiders, they were viewed with suspicion and often with disdain. They often appeared like beggars, wearing dirty clothes and smelling to high-heaven of the pasture, if you know what I mean. They were not the folks one would invite to a kingly birth. Yet, the angels announced to the shepherds: “Behold! Born to you this day in the City of David is the Messiah. You will find him laying…how?…wrapped in rags! You will find him…where?…lying in a feeding trough.

This king was the SHEPHERDS’ KING. And like the Shepherd, this king would be despised and distrusted. The challenge for us is to shift our understanding of God’s glory. It is not about kingly riches, a bright light show, and exquisite music. It is not Christmas as we know it; rather, God’s glory comes looking poor, beggar-ish, dirty, and smelling to high-heaven of the pasture. Let us shut down our over-the-top expectations and turn on our awareness of the REAL glory of God: Jesus Christ, who is LORD of all!

“He who has not Christmas in his heart will never find it under a tree.” – Roy L. Smith

Lord, heal my blindness so that I may see from your perspective and not my own, for your glory and not mine! Amen!

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