By JOHN PAUL CARTER
One of the most surprising features of “The Christmas Story” is that God chose to announce the birth of His Son to the “shepherds abiding in the fields” around Bethlehem.
You might think that He would have made such news known to the rulers or the priests or some well-known local saint. Nobody in all of Judea would have predicted that the angels would make their midnight appearance to the shepherds.
In Palestine sheep were the backbone of the economy – the main source of meat and fiber. Besides that, large numbers of lambs were needed for the daily sacrifices in the temple in Jerusalem. Because there weren’t any fences and predators were a constant threat, the many flocks required constant care.
Looking after sheep was a dirty, 24/7 job. Shepherds didn’t get to spend much time at home, weren’t regular worshippers in their synagogues, and were considered unclean for temple worship. So even though everyone depended on them to care for the sheep, they looked down on them – especially when it came to how they practiced their faith.
Ironically, it was specifically to these shepherds – often taken for granted by their neighbors – that God announced the birth of His Son: “Unto you (the shepherds) is born this day, in the city of David, a savior who is Christ the Lord!” Without hesitation, these faithful, hardworking servant-shepherds became the first-responders to the birth of Jesus.
At Christmas time – and every day – we need to follow God’s lead and gratefully honor the “shepherds” who make our lives so much better – all those people who work while we relax, play, sleep and worship. Our shepherds include our ministers, military personnel, law-enforcement officers, firemen, EMTs, doctors, nurses, teachers, therapists, postal workers, truck drivers, pilots, store clerks, waiters, technicians and countless others – all doing their jobs so that we can celebrate Christmas and live fuller lives. We owe them our deepest gratitude every day of the year!
Two weeks ago some of those shepherds came with haste, not to Bethlehem but to Newtown, Conn. They came, not to marvel at a baby in a manger, but to help families, a community, and a nation cope with the suffering and pain of another senseless slaughter of innocents.
If what Jesus said is true – “inasmuch as you have done it unto one of the least of these, you did it unto me” – then these shepherds were once again helping God to bind up the wounds of our hurting world. Thanks be to God for every one of them!
Lord, thank You for all our shepherds. At Christmas and throughout the year, may our gratitude help them to hear Your angels sing. Amen.