Throughout Advent, let’s look at the people of the story of Christ’s birth. This week: a shepherd. Here is my take on a possible first person narrative from Luke 2.
It was just another night, really. Nothing too special about it. The sheep were grazing or sleeping on the rolling meadow, just north of Bethlehem. The air was cool, but not cold yet, so we let the animals continue to stay out in the fields rather than finding a cave for shelter.
My name? It’s not really important, for I am a lowly shepherd. There are none in all of Israel that think of our people as anyone special. We do not command much attention and merely go about our work in a quiet, nondescript manner. We feed the sheep and goats. We water the sheep and goats. We guard the sheep and goats. We move them about so they will find plenty to eat and just the right amount to drink. And this we do day in and day out.
Shepherding is the only job I have ever had. I know my sheep, and they know me. As of today, I have 109 sheep in my flock: 32 rams, 41 ewes, and 36 lambs. There are another 88 goats. Everything I own is in a pack on my donkey. It’s not much. Another tunic. Some candles and pottery. A few ropes and animal skins. A small bag of nuts and raisins. Oh, and my flute. I so enjoy the gift God has given me to play music. It is a joy to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all while simply blowing across hole in a hollowed out piece of wood. I think the sheep like it as well.
My brother has his flock just over there. My brother-in-law is along that ridge.
So, about “that” night… The air was crisp. The moon was full. The sky bursting with bright stars. We had just thrown another log on a small fire. We kept watch for coyotes, for this is the time of the year when they prey on the members of our flock. We were talking about heading back to our village and meeting up with our families as it was the season to go up to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast. Of course, we do not ever get to go to the Temple, for we must be out here. But some in our family are blessed to be able to make the short journey to Mt. Zion.
We were making our plans when suddenly the night sky became very bright, as if it was the middle of the day. The sheep were startled and began to cry and low and move about anxiously. The three of us, did our best to keep them calm, all the while our hearts raced frantically. We had never seen this happen before. We had heard of earthquakes but had not experienced one. Was this that? Or some other natural phenomenon? Was this some sort of army moving across the plains? The dogs were barking, the sheep bleating, the donkey braying. We were terribly frightened.
Through the bright light a man appeared… a man like we had not ever seen previously. His first words? “Do not be afraid!” And yet we were terrified! It was truly a challenge to slow our heart rate and calm our breathing.
And then he said he was a messenger bringing good news, joyful news. Our Savior was born this very night and we were to go quickly down to the village of Bethlehem and see this new baby. A baby? Our Messiah? What was he saying? Who was this man? While he didn’t tell us he was an angel, we quickly figured that out when a multitude of others joined him and they started singing. Singing! And proclaiming the birth of a Savior.
“Glory to God!” they sang. “Peace on earth!” echoed across the valley, amplified by the night air.
Who were we to hear this message? We are not priests or rabbis or Pharisees or King Herod. Maybe they should go and proclaim this news to people of stature?
And just as quickly as they appeared, they returned again into the heavens.
So, of course, we did what they told us to do. We gathered our things; rounded up the flocks. And we ventured across the meadow in the middle of the night, down the rocky path to the village of Bethlehem. We looked and searched all over town. Can you see us? With our sheep? And our goats? And our donkeys? And the shepherding dogs? Oh, what noise we made as we meandered through the village in the middle of the night.
A man named Jacob came to greet us. He asked what we were doing wandering around? We told him of the angels and the singing and the bright lights in the sky. We shared the message of good news they had shared with us. He was stunned and had this look on his face I’ll never forget. It was a look of disbelief and belief all at the same time… like something very real and very special just dawned on him. With an eager jump in his step he led us to a small, dark, dank cave. He apologized as he motioned for us to enter. Inside were a few animals and a woman, who he said was his wife, lying in some straw. Her face was illuminated by a single candle. And she nursed a new born baby.
“Miriam!” he whispered with enthusiasm. “These men… they saw angels who told them to come find us… to find him… our son.”
We looked at each other with doubt in our eyes. Is this our Messiah? Our king? The savior of the world? But wouldn’t he be born in a royal palace attended to by a multitude of nurses and midwives and servants? Wouldn’t he be wrapped in silk or fine linens, not these swaddling rags?
Jacob could read our thoughts as our faces betrayed our skepticism. “He was born in this simple cave,” he said with humble honesty, “because he was born for you.”
“But we are lowly shepherds,” we explained. “And he is a king?”
“Yes,” Jacob replied. “Yes, indeed. He has been born for you and for them. You, however, you are the first to see Him. His name is ‘Immanuel. God with us.’ Go! Go tell everyone you see what a great thing God has done for all of us.”
And so, we did. Our suspicions turned to great joy. We returned to the fields and we praised the God of our Fathers … for the angels, for Jacob, for Miriam, but mostly for this baby, our Savior, born this very night!