Luke 2:8-9 – 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. (NIV)
Christmas and shepherds go together! But I've discovered that focusing instead on Baby Jesus as the promised Shepherd brings a new level of meaning to Christmas. One of the little-quoted prophecies of God Himself coming as a shepherd is found in Ezekiel:
Ezekiel 34:15-16a,22a – I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. (NIV)
This promise was so necessary because of the failure of the spiritual authorities of the day:
Ezekiel 34:2b,4b-5 – Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. (NIV)
Fast forward to Jesus' day, and the sheep were still being damaged by bad shepherding. Jesus couldn't have emphasized that point more clearly, observing that "they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd" (Matthew 9:36b NIV). The teachers of the law and the Pharisees had essentially abandoned their flock. They were driving the sheep away from God. One example is the Christmas shepherds, who may even have been raising the sheep for temple sacrifices. The authorities considered shepherds so defiled that they were not allowed in temple worship. Imagine that! The shepherds of the temple were driving away the shepherds of the fields. Shepherding, the very imagery which God used to describe Himself in their holy Book, was too unholy for the religious leaders of the day!
Yet these very shepherds became the first to receive the glorious news of Jesus' birth! That's stunning! That's strategic planning! It's God's plan to lift up those who are brought down — to undo the damage caused by bad shepherding. He would do that by becoming like them through His Son — despised, rejected, and marginalized by the spiritual shepherds of the day. Yet from this position, as a lowly Shepherd of people, Jesus would rise up as Saviour and bring lost sheep into the fold of God's glorious kingdom.
That is truly amazing! Just as prophesied, Jesus was born into a failed religious system to take over the shepherding job. He's been doing that ever since, throughout the centuries. He's been there in seasons of religious corruption to rescue lost sheep. Today, He still searches for lost and abandoned sheep, those who are spiritually undernourished, drifting in search of meaning. They've become prey to predators, perhaps snagged by yet another fruitless religious system. What an encouraging promise for all who carry church hurts! Jesus can heal the brokenness. Our Great Shepherd has come to restore, heal, and nurture through His Spirit within. God has not given up on the sheep!
That is the bigger picture, the landscape on which to set all the smaller "bits" of Christmas — the angels, the star, the manger, and so forth. It's a powerful picture! Surely that inspires our faith and hope. Surely that's a cause for renewed Christmas joy!
Prayer: Lord, when we think of the Child in the manger, may we remember that the Great Shepherd has indeed come. Open our eyes to see Your shepherding presence at work, even in the most unexpected of places, that our faith in You may grow more vibrant. Amen.
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Listen while you read: "The Birthday Of A King" (Lyrics)