Today I come to the end of this nine part Christmas series using as a structure the letters of the word Christmas and the lyrics from the song C-H-R-I-S-T-M-A-S made famous by country music legend, Jim Reeves some years ago. I hope a closer look at the meanings beyond the words of the lyrics have resulted in deeper reflections about the characters, places, and events of the story we know so well.
This letter “S” has many words associated with the Christmas season. I wonder how many and which ones you might list. Here is my list: Savior, salvation, snowflakes, sleigh, sled, skating, shopping, scarf, season’s greetings, sleigh bells, Saint Nicholas, Santa’s elves, Scrooge, shepherd, stocking, and Santa Claus.
The lyric in the song for the second S in the song’s title is “means shepherds came”.
I am struck each time I read Luke’s account of the birth of Christ of the significance that the announcement of the angels of the birth of Jesus came first to the shepherds, the ordinary folks. In Luke 2, the seemingly ‘least likely’ are chosen. They are chosen to be the first noted visitors of Jesus after His birth.
Even though sheep might be a livelihood for some, those left to actually tend the sheep were often the youngest and weakest family members (Recall how David who would become King was the youngest of his brothers.) who had few skills for anything else. This might mean that children, older men no longer in their prime, or even perhaps older women would compose the group.
It seems odd to me that the youngest and weakest were given such a difficult and dangerous job. Shepherds were exposed to extremes of heat and cold. Supplies for their own welfare were few and needed to be stewarded and protected. Shepherds also needed to be very watchful and on guard at all times to protect the sheep from robbers, predators, and the terrain itself, which was often rocky.
They also needed to seek out any sheep that were lost after wandering away and find food for the flock later in the fall and winter when none was available. A shepherd provided for what the sheep needed right now, whatever that was.
The fields where the shepherds heard the angelic host adjoined Bethlehem. Many of the shepherds may have cared for the very lambs that would be offered as a sacrifice in the temple. Now they would kneel at the manger of the Good Shepherd who would be sacrificed.
I envision the shepherds outside Bethlehem as a group that is both older and younger than images of the scene might depict. Possibly an older woman would have been in the mix as well. I see them with eyes open and on the alert to watch over the sheep and lambs in their charge. What a heart they had for their charges.
At the time of Jesus birth, we see the least likely are chosen, a pattern that follows Him all the way to Calvary. His disciples were not well-educated men and some had dubious reputations. A tax collector was among them, one who was often most despised, along with poor fishermen.
The other message that breaks into my awareness is the shepherds are accorded the honor of first seeing the one that would also be called “the good shepherd”. The Good Shepherd would be as fierce and protective, as loving and as much of a provider as those who gazed upon the manger. He would also be described by John the Baptist in John 1:29 as “the Lamb of God”.
As you edge closer to the celebration of the birth of Jesus, pause and consider Him as the One who shepherds you with the most tender, fierce love you can imagine. If you have invited Him into your heart and you are His, you can rest in peace when you lay down to sleep because He is always on watch caring for you. You can rest in confidence He will be there when you awaken and no matter where you are in your journey, He will never leave or forsake you. He even died for you.
John records the words of Jesus defining Himself in confirmation of those words in John 10:11 (ESV):
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
In the Message translation of John 10:11, the sentence reads:
“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd puts the sheep before himself, sacrifices himself if necessary.”
He simply loves us, the ordinary, that much.
Of all the gifts you may open this Christmas, none can compare with Jesus.