Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Shepherding the Sheep

Shepherding the Sheep

By Brenda Black

"And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.'

"Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.'

"When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, 'Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.'

"So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told." (Luke 2:8-20)

While Mary pondered all the miracles surrounding the birth of the Christ child, I wonder if she mulled over in her mind why shepherds were the first to come calling. They lived in a culture fanatical about cleanliness and shepherds were never clean. They constantly walked about in excrement and touched dead things which left them in a state of ritual impurity. Because of their defiled conditions, shepherds were not allowed to go to the temple to offer sacrifices or to go to the synagogues with other worshipers. Even the most pious shepherd was labeled as unclean and could not come into the presence of God. Then why were these outcasts invited first to view the newborn King?

God always has a purpose. The Nativity account in Luke devotes only 253 words to the unnamed night watchers and their reaction to the announcement of Jesus' birth, but God's choice of sheep-keepers was a major foresight of the ministry that Jesus would demonstrate as he walked on earth. Christ the Good Shepherd started as a sleeping child in a stable. Christ the Good Shepherd lived for his flock by loving, feeding and serving them. Christ the Good Shepherd died as a spotless lamb unto slaughter and rose as a the Good Shepherd who will lead the flock home to safety. The Christmas baby was born a shepherd. Who would understand better the necessity for mankind to be shepherded than those who dealt with sheep on a daily basis.

The believers of Christ are called sheep in John 10:15. Before you feel flattered by the moniker, talk to a shepherd. They'll tell you sheep are docile in nature, but timid and terribly nervous. The news of the Messiah was certain to bring anxiety along with delight. Shepherds would know how to settle the nerves with the comforting words of an angel who told them personally "Do not be afraid..."

Sheep exhibit strong flocking behavior and only a shepherd knows how to take them the right direction. The quicker the shepherds got the news to the masses, the better. Good news of a Good Shepherd would give comfort and hope, and deliver the long-awaited announcement of the Messiah's arrival. Those rugged shepherds knew if they got one lamb to listen, the rest would surely follow.

Flock mentality can be good or it can be fatal. Shepherds are keenly aware that they must do everything in their power to protect those in their care. God's people are susceptible to wickedness and danger. Just as sheep are generally less aggressive than goats, so it is in the spiritual realm where saints strive for peace, while demons push for power. Left together in the same enclosure, goats will harass the sheep. Left without a shepherd, believers are prey to evil doers. Thankfully, God inhabits the praise of His people. The shepherds "returned, glorifying and praising God." Their rejoicing rendered satan powerless. No doubt, demons fled the heralding.

Remember this Christmas that Christ is the King of Kings. But first, he was a Shepherd. Those most willing to calm fears, lead with assuring voices and lay down their lives for the flock, are most blessed indeed. When we shepherd, we look like Christ to others.

**For more animal parables, check out Brenda's new book "Were You Born in a Barn?" at www.thewordsout-brendablack.com



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