I, at least briefly, think about the shepherds every Christmas season. Usually it’s either when I’m putting out my dollar store nativity or else when I’m putting a certain ornament on the tree. My friend and fellow kid's choir leader, Lisa, gave me the shepherd ornament to remember the Christmas play we did one year. Hayden was the shepherd for our children’s Christmas musical when he was four.
He was given a few instructions for his minor part. He was told where to stand. He was reminded to sing. And he was encouraged to smile. His biggest part was one line that he was supposed to say when “the angels came to visit.”
“Let us go to Bethlehem and see this child.”
Eighteen years later I still distinctly hear him saying those words in his tiny hick voice. (Probably because we'd rehearsed them a hundred times.)
Did he really know what he was saying? In the midst of practices and our arranging the cattle and sheep, and the angels, and Mary and Joseph, did I give much thought to why sheep herders were the first to hear the news?
Luke 2 tells us about the shepherds. We're not given their names or their genealogy. We're not told how many of them there were. All we're really told is that the field they were in was in the vicinity of where Mary and Joseph and newborn Jesus were.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. Luke 2:8
The shepherds hold a special place in the Christmas story, but here's what I'm thinking.
1. The shepherds likely didn't recognize they had a calling an hour before the angel visit. (I doubt they found themselves saying, "Jethro, something feels different about tonight." or "Do you ever wonder if you're meant for something more than sheep watching?"
2. They might not have been nobility, but they had responsibilities; responsibilities that took a backseat to worshiping Christ's coming (Luke 2:16 says, "They hurried."). They dropped what they thought had mattered (in their case, their livelihood) to take part in the important event. They also spread the the word (when they had seen him) in such a way that all who heard were amazed. Were they eloquent or gifted storytellers or was it just such a good story?
3. Did they even comprehend who He was? Using a parent/teacher tactic the angel took great care to describe in three ways who it was that had been born in that manger (for those who didn't get it the first time.) Born to you is the:
I wonder about the names of the shepherds. Did they know much about the prophecy? Were they good shepherds? Were they good men?! Were they worthy of being chosen to be the first visitors and then heralds of the best news ever, short of the empty tomb news?
I'm not sure any of that matters as much as the simple fact that there in Bethlehem a savior was born...and to no credit of their own... the shepherds were nearby.
Because of his coming, we all have a nearby Jesus. That, in and of itself lands us a calling that takes priority over any other purpose we might think we have. Who He is exceeds our comprehension, but we have an inkling.
What will we do with His presence?
What will we do with what we know of Him?