Shepherds and sheep have long been a part of the Christmas story. Our nativity scenes include at least one of each and our cards, songs, and stories of Christmas reflect the importance of the angels heralding the birth of the Savior out in the fields that night so long ago. I am always encouraged to read through scripture and notice how many times God incorporate the stories of "ordinary" people, not just the rich, famous, or powerful. Yes, we have stories of great kings and conquering armies. We have stories of some pretty nasty ones, as well. The stories which seem to have some of the richest meaning are those which are recorded about the "common guys and gals", though. Think about the story of Sarah and Abraham - a struggling couple, just hoping one day to be blessed with a child, then somehow realizing they are past their "prime" and it may never happen for them. The story of Naomi and Ruth come to mind, picturing a devoted daughter-in-law and a widowed mom, trying to make ends meet in a world not always welcoming to women on their own. The scriptures are rich with wisdom and lessons taught through these "common" guys and gals. Ranchers, farmers, carpenters, tax collectors, and fishermen - all serving as living testimonies for us of the mercy, grace, and love of our heavenly Father.
I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep, and they know me. Just as the Father knows me, I know the Father, and I give up my life for my sheep. (John 10:14-15 CEV)
Sheep - innocent creatures - aren't they? They don't kill other creatures. They just go about eating from the fields until their wool is fully in and then they allow themselves to be sheared down to almost nakedness, so the shepherds can sell their wool or make themselves warm garments from it. If you have ever watched sheep graze, you will see something kind of unique from other grazing animals. You might think I am referring to their ability to almost nibble the roots from the ground, but I am not. They graze where they find "clean" grazing. In other words, if the fields are filled with all manner of garbage and "cow patties", they are not as thrilled about grazing there. They move on to the a cleaner "patch" of grass. They are pretty unique in that manner of grazing, my friends. They like "clean pastures" and "fresh water" for drinking. This is why they were constantly cared for by the shepherds - to find them the best grazing and the freshest of water sources. Cattle might make it out there on their own, but the needs of the sheep are greater and require a whole lot more oversight.
This might just give us a moment to consider how scripture refers to us as "sheep" and Christ as the "Good Shepherd". We need to be guided to the best places to eat, the most refreshing of "living waters" which do more than satisfy a niggling thirst, but soothe the deepest longings of a thirsty heart. Sheep are at the master's service - giving of their lives in service to the one who provides so richly for them. We might balk at times when it seems like Christ asks something of us - asking us to give of ourselves in some manner - but in essence, this is the greatest joy of the sheep - to serve the Master. Did you ever stop to consider how most of the sheep is of some use, even when it gives its life? The wool makes one warm and produces the strongest of blankets, yarns, and the like. The hide or skin of the sheep is even useful when tanned to create some of the most beautiful bindings for books and soft leathers for shoes, wallets, and the like. The meats are enjoyed by many dressed with fresh vegetables from the gardens. A purpose for each part and each part serving as it was designed. I think nothing honors the Shepherd more than that the sheep fulfill the purpose for which they were created!
One of the pretty apparent teachings in scripture about the shepherd's role in tending the sheep is this need of the sheep to have someone watch over them - by night, for sure - but at all times! Why? They are fearful creatures - kind of skittish by nature. They can be frightened by twigs tangled in the blowing breeze, or the cracking of a branch under a sojourner's sandal. This is one reason the Shepherd takes such care in getting the sheep familiar with his voice when they are quite little. If you have ever seen that one image of the shepherd carrying the little lamb across his shoulders, you might have equated this with the wee lamb being weak or tired on its journey. Not really - for this simple act carries a much deeper purpose. It is in the position that the sheep learns the voice of the shepherd. The union of the two comes in the times the shepherd carries the wee sheep, allowing the lamb to become so acquainted with the intonations of his voice that he recognizes is FIRST above all others. I think this is why Jesus beckons us to draw near to him - so we become so acquainted with his voice that we hear it FIRST above all others. In those times Christ is carrying us, maybe it is a simple act to help us learn his voice a little clearer, my friends!
We might not realize all the beauty of the Shepherd and Sheep illustrations we are given in scripture, but if we can just focus on these simple lessons of the pair, we will do well. May you always be carried when you need to learn the sound of his voice more clearly. May your grazing be in places where clean streams flow and abundance of fresh "grass" ripe for the grazing is found. May your life be so dedicated to the simple service of the Shepherd - in all you do, may your life be found to bring honor to the one who gives his life in service to you! Just sayin!