The Shepherds.

((from Jessica))

In this season of life, when I reflect upon the text of Luke 2:8-18, this is what my heart imagines as I think back to those lowly shepherds lying wait in the field… 

Shalom aleichem, unto you peace, Miss. My name is Matthias, and I do apologize for the stench and appearance of my outer garments. It’s been several days since we’ve stopped to rest and bathe. Truly, I forgot how hungry and dirty I was until I saw the tidiness of your tunic and smelled the aroma of bread you carry in your arms. Do forgive me. It’s truly been a whirlwind of events these past few days. In fact, this is the first we’ve stopped since we heard the good news proclaimed in the north field.”

“You haven’t heard?”

“Oh my! Where do I begin? In the past few days, I’ve told this story more times than I can count, but I’d be thrilled to share it again!”

(drawing some water from the well)

“Please do not worry, Miss; it is no burden to tell it again. In fact, this good news is the  reason my brothers and I have not stopped to rest or eat since we first heard. Since that star-lit night, we’ve been to Bethlehem and after that, we’ve been traveling from field to field, pasture to pasture, and village to village to share this very story I’m about to share with you.”

“Am I tired of sharing this story?”

“Oh goodness, no! In fact, every time I re-tell it, those holy goosebumps flood my arms and once again, I find myself back in that field with a joy I truly cannot contain, nor desire to restrain! Truly, it’s rather unbelievable that this would happen to me…to us. Of all the people in Israel! I still can hardly believe that a heavenly host of angels would descend upon a group of shepherds. As you probably well know, Miss, we dirty shepherds stand on the lowest rung of the Palestinian ladder…right alongside those deceitful tax collectors.”

“I know, I know; it doesn’t seem fair to me either. In the days of our beloved patriarchs, shepherding was such an esteemed and needed job. In fact, my great grandfather shares stories passed on from our descendants – an entire lineage of shepherds that have come straight from the line of David. As you probably know, the rabbis have banned us from pasturing in Israel, so we’ve been relegated to the open, desert plains. I wish I could have seen some of the smug faces in the synagogue that evening when they heard of our news; I bet they were about as flabbergasted as we were! A Savior proclaimed to a bunch of misfit shepherds?!”

“I’m sorry; you’re right. I’m getting ahead of myself and leaving out a bunch of important details. Let me start from the beginning, but as I begin, would you mind sharing a piece of that bread with me?”

(wiping the crumbs from his mouth)

“Well, three days ago, the day started like every other day. We were tending the sheep, meeting their needs, and counting them one by one. After the morning count, we realized Judas had wandered from the fold, so my oldest brother and I set out that morning  to track him down. That foolish sheep is always wandering and apparently, he had wandered from the cave the night before; I still can’t believe we found him whole! Between the packs of wolves and the bands of robbers, we’re constantly in a state of vigilance!”

“Yes, miss, you’re correct. Every single sheep matters to us good shepherds. Could I have another piece of that bread? It was delicious, and I’m starved!”

(inhaling the second piece of bread)

“So as I was saying, the day started out like a normal day. I’m not going to lie, Miss, I’ve been struggling with this shepherd life for the past few years. It feels menial what I do. Day in and day out, I stumble around the flock fighting for my purpose, searching for my significance. ‘What do you want from me, Lord?’ I must ask that question 50 times a day. My life feels small, and I struggle to find  purpose in the routine of our pasture life. No one really notices our work; people don’t respect us; and these sheep test my patience every single day. I don’t get any thanks; I don’t make a whole lot of money; and if I’m being entirely honest, I have struggled to believe the promises of YAHWEH. I have heard (and know by heart) the stories of old, and truly – I have wanted to cling to the promises like my people have but the truth is, I have gotten weary of waiting and tired of hoping. In fact, that very afternoon, I turned to my younger brother and said, ‘I’m tired of living like this. Is there a reason for any of this?”

(stopping to take a quick drink)

“So, that evening, as we settled the sheep and positioned ourselves at our designation posts, I prepared myself for another cold and lonely  night. But then suddenly, out of nowhere, an angel of the Lord appeared to us, and the glory of the Lord shone around us, and we were absolutely terrified. In fact, I’ve never been more scared! But then this angel said to us, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ “

“I know, I know; it was hard for me to believe, too, and I was there… seeing and hearing it with my very own eyes and ears! And then as if it couldn’t get any more crazy and unbelievable, suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’ My brothers and I were in an absolute state of shock as we cowered on the ground, waffling between utter fear and absolute excitement.”

“What did we do next? Well, that’s a great question, and I still can’t believe our response. When the angels had left us and gone into heaven, we said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ Automatically, without any hesitation or any real discussion, we hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. Truly, it was a miraculous and beautiful night; something I will never, ever forget. That baby, lying humbly in that dirty manager, did something for me that night – something I can’t exactly put my finger on yet. But it was real, and it was amazing, and I don’t believe I’ll ever be the same!”

(wiping several tears from his cheeks)

“And after we had seen him, we couldn’t keep the experience to ourselves! We started spreading the word concerning what we had been told about this child. And everyone who has heard, has been amazed at what we’ve shared! And that’s the very reason why I’m sitting by this well, stinky and starving. We haven’t stopped for days and yet, I have a deep-seeded joy that I haven’t had in years.” 

(reaching out to the woman near the well)

“Miss, I haven’t had time to ponder all that has occurred and what it means for me as a lowly shepherd, but I believe this baby is the Savior – a fulfillment of all the promises. And if this is true, which how can it not be, then I believe what my father and mother have been rehearsing for years. This baby is the star coming out of Jacob, our Kinsman-Redeemer, a descendant of David (my people!), God’s Son, a great Light, a wonderful counselor, a mighty God, the everlasting Father, a Prince of Peace, and our Messiah!!!”

(stopping to catch his breath)

“And though that might not change the difficulty of my pasture life or remove the monotony of my moments, it fills me with an inexplicable hope – a hope for all the hard of this life! And though I don’t know for sure, I believe there was a reason He came to us lowly shepherds first. As the prophet Isaiah foretold, ‘Like a shepherd He will tend His flock, In His arm He will gather the lambs And carry them in His bosom; He will gently lead the nursing ewes.'”

“Miss, I believe He is the Good Shepherd, and I believe we are the sheep of His pasture. And if that is true, I can trust Him for all of my pasture moments. Because if there is one thing I know about good shepherds, they love their sheep and would sacrifice their very lives for every last one.” 

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