A Shepherd’s Story
I was just a kid when it happened,
barely old enough to be out in the
fields with the older shepherds.
For the first time, my Dad had said
that I could stay with them all night.
I was so excited!
It was around the time of the Fall Feasts
and we were tending the Temple flocks
in the fields outside of Bethlehem.
Later, people would try to say that the story
I’m about to tell you took place in December, but
that’s crazy because nobody would have had their
sheep in the open fields that far into winter.
It was too cold and a sudden storm
could put them all in grave danger.
No shepherd could afford to take that
risk even with ordinary sheep, and these
sheep were different from all others.
The priests bred them especially
for use as sacrifices in the Temple.
Because of this, they had to be perfect, not
a spot or blemish anywhere on their bodies.
These were lambs whose only purpose in being born
was to die as an offering for the sins of the people.
They were very valuable and
watching them was important work.
You see, sheep are prone to wandering.
It’s the shepherd’s job to keep track of them,
and to bring them back when they stray.
We also keep the predators at bay, the
wolves that would sneak in among the
flock and carry the weak ones off.
We’re responsible for them, and it’s
our job to see that none are lost.
After dinner we were getting the camp ready
for the night, making one last check to be
sure that all the sheep were accounted for
and weren’t being distracted by the torch
light from the constant stream of visitors
in the distance heading for the town.
Bethlehem was more crowded than I’d ever seen
it because the governor had called for a census
and everyone in Israel who was descended
from King David had to come here to register.
David had lived almost a thousand years
earlier, and had four wives, so you can
imagine how many descendants he had,
and they were all coming to Bethlehem.
Our little town was filled to overflowing and
some had given up even trying to find rooms.
That’s another good reason this couldn’t
have happened in the dead of winter.
People just couldn’t travel then, it was too cold
and wet to camp in the fields along the way.
Remember, some had to travel several
days, all the way from beyond the
Galilee up north, to get here.
I remember that we’d just settled down by
the fire when an angel of the Lord suddenly
appeared to us from out of nowhere.
I was terrified! I’d never
seen anything like it.
But I wasn’t the only one.
Even the seasoned veterans
But the angel spoke to us and said,
“Do not be afraid.
I bring you good news of great
joy that will be for all people.
Today in the town of David
a Saviour has been born to you.
He is Messiah, the Lord!
This will be a sign to you.
You will find a baby wrapped in
swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly the star filled sky opened up, and
a great company of angels appeared with him,
and they were all praising God and singing.
“Glory to God in the Highest, and on
Earth peace to men with whom He is pleased.”
There’s no way I could even begin to
describe the sound of that choir!
A couple of times later in my life I heard
the musicians, that rich people hired to help
them, celebrate when their first son was
born, but not even the wealthiest King
could have afforded a choir like this one.
The music caused us to lift our faces
and our hands to the heavens.
It filled our ears and our hearts and was by far
the most beautiful sound I ever heard in all my life.
When they faded away and left us we just stood
there for a minute looking at each other, our eyes
filled with wonder, tears of joy streaming down the
weathered cheeks of my father and his friends.
They’d of course heard all the talk about a Messiah,
but none of them ever expected to see Him.
And now, not only would we see Him;
we would be the first!
One minute we were finishing up a long shepherd’s
day just like always, and the next we were
witnessing the invasion of Earth by Heaven itself.
Eternity had entered time and the Son
of God had become the Son of Man,
almost right before our eyes.
This had been my first day as a real shepherd,
and there would never be another one like it.
Mindful of our responsibility, we left a couple
of our number to watch the sheep, and the
rest of us took off for Bethlehem in search
of the sign the angel had told us to look for.
And sure enough, in a stable behind the
inn at the edge of town, we found them.
A man with the clothing and calloused hands
of the working class stood protectively
over a radiant, but obviously exhausted young
woman, who didn’t look much older than I was.
In the manger before her was a baby,
a normal looking healthy baby boy.
“Can this be what God looks like,”
I thought, “He’s just a baby.”
Like most people, I expected that if I
ever saw God He’d be a giant Warrior
King with a huge sword and a menacing look.
This baby looked so fragile.
Others were beginning to gather around
as well, because we’d shouted at every
one we saw on the way in to follow us.
Now we told them all the whole story of what
we’d experienced in the field with the angel
and the choir, and that we had come to town
to see for ourselves if what we heard was true.
They were all amazed and couldn’t stop
talking about it, but the woman just sat
there with her baby as if she was
soaking up every detail of this most
blessed of all blessed events.
I’ll never forget the look in her
eyes or the expression on her face.
Having seen the proof that the angel told
us to look for, we went back to our flocks,
praising God and giving Him Glory, and
thanking Him for letting humble shepherds
like us be the first to see The Christ Child.
It was ironic, wasn’t it, that we, who spent
our lives tending lambs born to die, should
be the first to see The Lamb, born to
die for the sins of the people?
The man, who I found out was named
Joseph, and the woman Mary stayed
in Bethlehem through the winter.
Remember, I said that no one travels
voluntarily after late fall, especially
heading north with a new born baby.
They found a house and settled in.
Some time later there was a big fuss as a
caravan of rich priests called Magi arrived
from Parthia, a country near Israel that
had been part of the Persian Empire.
They called the baby the King of the Jews,
gave him expensive gifts and money,
and bowed down before Him to worship.
Somebody said that the Magi had been
waiting for this time since the Hebrew Prophet
Daniel had told them about it 500 years earlier.
They had handed the secret down
from father to son all that time.
They even said that the money was
Daniel’s personal gift to the Messiah.
After the Magi left, things were quiet again
for a few days, but then Joseph suddenly
took Mary and the baby away secretly
in the middle of the night.
The next morning Herod’s soldiers swept
into town, searching from house to
house, killing all the male babies.
They were looking for Him because
Herod didn’t want any competition
for the throne, but He was gone.
We heard that Joseph had been warned
in a dream and had taken Mary and the baby
south to Egypt where the weather was warmer.
It’s a good thing those Magi had come. Their gifts
paid for the family’s escape and their stay in Egypt.
Years later, after we had both grown up, I heard
about a prophet named Jesus from Nazareth.
People said He might be the Messiah.
I remembered that Joseph and Mary had
come from there, and so I decided to investigate.
Walking north for several days I finally found
Him by the Sea of Galilee and as I listened to
Him speak, my heart was filled with hope.
I especially liked how He called
Himself "our Shepherd".
He promised to keep us from wandering,
and to protect us from predators who
would try to steal us away.
And He swore that He’d never lose a
single one of us, just like we promised
the owners of the sheep we watched.
He was the Messiah.
I just knew it.
Later, I was there in Jerusalem, near
death myself, when He was executed.
As He breathed His last, I became convinced
that I’d see Him again just like He promised.
Three days later I did see Him, and knew
that all of the angel’s promises had come
true in the life, death, and resurrection
of the Baby from Bethlehem.
He wasn’t the King we expected,
but He was the One we needed.
He was our Savior,
Looking back on that night,
I realize that many will never
understand what happened there.
I was an eyewitness and
I barely understand it myself.
But I know this:
On that night in Bethlehem a group
of shepherds became sheep, and the
Lamb of God became our Shepherd.
In the same region there were some
shepherds staying out in the fields and
keeping watch over their flock by night.
And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before
them, and the Glory of the Lord shone around
them; and they were terribly frightened.
But the angel said to them,
“Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you
good news of great joy which will be for all
the people; for today in the city of David there
has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ
the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find
a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there appeared with the angel a
multitude of the heavenly host praising God and
saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on
earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
When the angels had gone away from them
into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one
another, “Let us go straight to Bethlehem then,
and see this thing that has happened which
the Lord has made known to us.”
So they came in a hurry and found their
way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby
as He lay in the manger.
When they had seen this, they made
known the statement which had
been told them about this Child.
And all who heard it wondered at the things
which were told them by the shepherds.
But Mary treasured all these things,
pondering them in her heart.
The shepherds went back, glorifying and
praising God for all that they had heard
and seen, just as had been told them.