Sheep are known as “golden hoof” by some that raise them, for the land becomes better because of them. But this was not apparent on the sheep farm nearby where we lived with our family for 15 years. There the pasture divided between the goats, and sheep and King, the llama, was just mud most of the year and a mess of a hill. All four of our daughters worked there, our youngest for 11 years, every week going out for a few hours to shovel, clean, shear, feed babies, help with shots, etc. And every week, whoever had gone, would arrive home smelling no longer like the girls they were but like the sheep, well, the worst parts of sheep. They’d strip out of their sheep clothing in the garage, and head straight for the shower.
One day, when Gabri and her older sister Susanna were there, a ram cut loose out the barn door. The shepherd, Laurelen, shouted, “Gabri! Grab him!” and Gabri leaped and caught him by his horns as he ran, and he proceeded to run through the pasture, the mud, and guck, dragging her. She was having a great ride, laughing through the pasture. Finally, she got him under her control, got him stopped and down. Laurelen was laughing and Susanna, a bit dismayed, said, “You know, you could have just let go!”
When I think of the shepherds “guarding their flocks by night,” from the Luke 2 passage, I think of the sheep farm and the girls coming home smelling like the worst parts of sheep. It is just another layer of amazement at how God chose them for the birth announcement, not palace officials, nor the High Priest. Of course, those characters wouldn’t have had space nor ears to hear this “Good news of great joy!”
The shepherds in that time and in that society held no status. Sure, they were raising sheep for the temple, but were not trusted nor valued members of society. Often unlettered, poor, dirty, and smelly, they were not respected as witnesses or trusted to tell the truth. Yet it was to them, God’s message came. To the least of these, God announced His Son.
But God loves shepherds; the first guy named as righteous said to have faith, Abel, was a shepherd (Genesis 4). God’s favorite king of Israel, David, was a shepherd (1 Sam 16). God said he would come and rescue his people from the bad shepherds (religious leaders) and come as a Shepherd (Ezekiel 34), and Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd (John 10), fulfilling God’s word through the prophet Ezekiel. God loves shepherds for they truly cared for sheep and thereby witnessed how God truly loved and cared for people.
Like a shepherd, God never lets people wander without seeking them. God never abandons his people. Even when circumstances are tough, GOD is on the search, seeking to rescue us even from the places people have willfully wandered.
So when the angel came to the shepherds, the angel didn’t tell them why God had chosen them as the bearers of the news, didn’t tell them how God was for everyone. Nope, instead, the angel said this:
“Do not be afraid. …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” (Luke 2: 10-12, emphasis added).
BORN TO YOU.
A SIGN TO YOU.
Here these guys knew they were on the fringe of society, they were the rejects, the unwanted, the untrusted, and yet, God had sent this mighty angel to personally announce to them this good news.
People had tried to make gods of men for centuries, but now GOD announced that His Son, God, had been born a man.
The old Charles Wesley hymn said it this way, “God contracted to a span, incomprehensibly made man.”
The apostle penned it as “the WORD became FLESH and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14).
And this news, this wonderful, impossible, better-than-ever news, worthy of angel choirs and angelic proclamations, “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill toward men on whom his favor rests” —- this news was first announced to simple shepherds.
If God announced this first to the ones who were at the bottom rung of the social ladder, then this news, this “to you,” includes you and me. The Savior came for me. Of course, we know that. But often in our lives, like me on some of those past Christmas Eve times (see my Tuesday 12/24 post), we don’t show we know it.
We allow the messages of shame to rather take the day, naming us, blaming us, berating us, like the sheep, casting us down. In those times we forget that God sent the best news to us, in a “to you,” which included us on our fringe days, at our lowest ebb, in our worst estate.
Instead believe: since I am feeling like an outcast right now, that means God is even more FOR me! Since I am downcast, like sheep get, that means my Shepherd is here to rescue me.
God reached the lowest rung of society to include everyone. No one left out. No one excluded from the fact that a Savior came for them, personally, “To you.”
Christmas, with all the pressures and expectations and lists and challenges, invites us to remember that the One who threw all the stars into space and knows them by name, actually knows and loves each person and came for them. Came for you.
Whenever you are hitting the worst days, remember, if the testimony came to shepherds, then it came also to you as well. No one excluded, but all included in this great news of a Savior. This is a statement of how much God loves each person.
What if instead of interpreting our world based upon the disasters that we might see around us, we interpreted life based upon the character and goodness of a God who did everything backwards when he Sent His Son. He didn’t give the first announcement to kings, nor did God have Jesus born into a palace, but instead God gave this birth announcement to the nobodies, and Jesus was placed in a manger, a feed trough, the most accessible place, in the town of Bethlehem, Hebrew for the HOUSE OF BREAD, for Jesus, the Bread of Life, had arrived.
No matter the mess – the ugliness – the hardship – GOD HAS IT; HE HAS YOU; HE HAS ME.
The question in hard times, in discordant times, is never the character of God, but whether we will look up to God from our sheep pastures, our places of being outcast, our places of rejection and hurt. Will we still remember we are those shepherds, rejected, outcasts of society but chosen by God for the greatest news? Will we look up so God can lift us up to the potential He has for us