Most of us have no context for the work of shepherds. Pastures and grazing land aren’t common to many areas here unless it’s for cows. Green areas are often set aside for farming.
Shepherds weren’t the most popular people in town. Their jobs were mundane but necessary, and the effects of their work often caused them to be less than pleasant to be around because of the stench acquired while working. Sheep were stubborn, dirty, and self-centered; they needed to be led to food and water to survive. Shepherds were needed yet disrespected. They weren’t always men; often women and teenagers took on the responsibilities of watching the flocks.
Sheep were an important commodity for the community. They provided wool, meat, and milk, and the hilly areas around Bethlehem were perfect for grazing. The job of the shepherd was to protect and provide for their sheep, for not only were they used for food and clothing, but the lambs, if perfect, were used for sacrifices in the Temple.
Shepherds were in the fields outside Bethlehem that special night. They didn’t anticipate anything unusual; they watched carefully for wild animals or people who would steal their sheep. So when the skies lit up with the glory of the Lord and an angel messenger spoke to them, their natural response was fear.
The angel calmed them and gave them the holy message of the coming of the Messiah, the One who had been promised since the beginning of time when people wandered from a close relationship with God.
Why shepherds, such unimpressive people? Why not kings or generals or heads of industry?
The Son of God came to earth for everyone, not just the privileged and powerful. He came to provide life, protection, and peace to all who would respond to His gift. We all have equal opportunities to experience love and forgiveness.
Quite frankly, we’re a lot like sheep.
We want to do what we want, go where we choose, not think about those around us. We don’t always make it easy for others to love us. We can be prickly or pious, suspicious or careless. Even when Someone reaches out in love and compassion to us, it’s easy to doubt His sincerity, His ability to do what He says He will do.
But Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He came into the world as a vulnerable baby, needing to rely on His parents for His protection and provision. He learned what it was like to be in need; He was raised in the home of a common laborer.
He was God become Man. Fully human; fully God.
When we wander into foolishness and hurt, when we’ve lost our way and feel unloved and unwanted, He seeks us out.
“The Lord is my Shepherd; I lack nothing. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He refreshes my soul. He guides me along the right paths for His name’s sake.” Psalm 23:1-3
This Christmas, consider what it would be like to be loved and cared for with such compassion. Imagine being embraced by the arms of the Gentle Shepherd whose greatest desire is to love you lavishly.
Jesus is so much more than a baby.