Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Sheep? What about the Sheep?

Imagine just minding your business one long night out on the pasture, listening for the telltale signs of a predator approaching in the brush, just looking for a moment to creep in unaware - then out of nowhere, the sky is lit up, the appearance of angels is everywhere among your herd of little sheep.  What would your reaction be?  If you were the shepherds of old on that night outside of Bethlehem, your reaction would have been one of absolute "terror". In a moment, their world changed.  The "common" among men were visited by the heavenly realm!  No wonder they were overwhelmed with fear!  A thing like this just did not happen to "everyday men" just minding their business in the fields, did it?  Maybe it was an illusion?  Perhaps the evening stew was tainted with some bacteria and was playing tricks on their minds?  As their imaginations ran wild with the possibilities of "how" this was happening, the angels spoke the "why" as clearly as they could:  "Don't be afraid!  A Savior has just been born in David's city!"  

As the angel choir withdrew into heaven, the sheepherders talked it over. “Let’s get over to Bethlehem as fast as we can and see for ourselves what God has revealed to us.” They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. Seeing was believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.  Mary kept all these things to herself, holding them dear, deep within herself. The sheepherders returned and let loose, glorifying and praising God for everything they had heard and seen. It turned out exactly the way they’d been told!  (Luke 2:15-20 MSG)

Mankind was receiving the much anticipated arrival of their Messiah and God chose to announce his coming not to the media, nor the prominent in office, but to the "common man" at work in the fields.  God just doesn't operate like we'd expect, does he?  In fact, he overwhelms us with just the opposite of what we'd expect!  I can only imagine the "buzz" of excitement as these burly dudes in shepherd's clothing all talking at once, remarking about this angel or that, trying to recall every detail of the moments they had just experienced!  Has anyone ever considered the sheep?  Most sheep are pretty easily "spooked" by anything out of the ordinary!  I wonder if the shepherds even stopped to consider the fact that not one of the sheep ran!  God even took care of the sheep when the shepherds were caught up in the awesomeness of the moment!  He's a good God - caring for even what we take for granted.

You don't believe me?  Well, where in our passage does it say they "drove the herd" into Bethlehem that night to go see this Messiah who was born?  It doesn't!  In fact, it says they ran as fast as they could into Bethlehem.  This leaves me with the suspicion these shepherds did what no shepherd would ever do - they left the sheep!  Now, this may not be significant to you, but it is to me because I see God's care over the sheep when the shepherds were consumed with not only the messengers, but with the validation of the message!  After all is said and done, the passage tells us they returned to their duties in the fields, taking up where they had left off.  No need to search for the sheep - they were right where they left them!  

So, maybe this is not the gospel message of Christmas, but it is does speak about God's tender-loving care for the things we hold dear to us.  To the shepherd, the sheep were everything.  Their lives absolutely rotated around the needs of the sheep - if they were hungry, they drove them to food; thirsty, then to water; tired, to a quiet and safe place to rest.  No one and nothing separated the sheep from the shepherd.  One wandering off required the immediate attention of the shepherd to keep it from harm and to bring it back into the fold.  One born with weak little legs required the strength of his arms to travel until those little legs were ready to bear up under the weight of its own body.  The shepherd lived FOR the sheep., doesn't that give us a moment to pause?  The shepherd lived FOR the sheep.  What the angels were announcing that night so long ago was indeed this message of hope:  The Shepherd has come to live FOR the sheep! In fact, not only would the shepherd live FOR the sheep, he'd give his LIFE for the sheep.  The purpose of God using the men of the field to announce the arrival of the Great Shepherd who had come to live FOR and give his LIFE for his "sheep" might just be found in the connection of the shepherd to his sheep.  The angels came to announce the arrival - the shepherds announced it far and wide, in only the way a shepherd could connect with the idea of a Messiah - as the one who had come to "tend" his flock!

These were burly dudes, not refined orators.  They hooped and hollered - they didn't hold a conference!  They probably woke up sleeping Bethlehemites that night - even drawing a few not so happy looks and comments in return.  There message was exuberant and joyful.  I kind of liken it to when our football team scores the winning point and we all jump up and down, hooping and hollering, high-fiving, body-butting, and just plain "getting down" about the win!  These guys were announcing the "greatest win" of all time, for all of mankind!  They were transformed by their experience - but more importantly, they were transformed because they beheld the Great Shepherd!  There is something awesome in beholding the Shepherd!  

To this I can only add:  "O come, let us worship and bow down: let us kneel before the Lord our maker.  For he is our God; and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand."  (Psalm 95:6-7 KJV)  Isn't it time we realize he came to live FOR his sheep and to ultimately give his LIFE for each and every one of his flock?  Just sayin!

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