Sunday 27 December 2020

Shepherd of Shepherds

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived. Luke 2: 15 –21

A bunch of shepherds turning up at a new-born baby's side? Would have been quite the episode of "Call the Midwife", as they were told they smelt of sheep and had to go wash their hands. 

Maybe it's not surprising that the shepherds got there first. Shepherds worked odd hours in out of the way places; would have been handy for the arrival of angels.They'd have woken the whole village if they'd rocked up first of all at a rabbi's house.

But shepherds are also important as a sign of who Jesus is. They're common people - Christ is sent to earth for common people - but they're also living parables of God.

Among the many illustrations of God's nature in the Bible - farm owner, king, potter - one of the most common is that of a shepherd. Psalm 23 - "The Lord's My Shepherd". Isaiah 40: "He will shepherd his sheep and will gather the lambs in his arm." The King who the Lord loved, David, was a shepherd of sheep before he became a shepherd of his people. Ezekiel 37 has God getting fed up with the shepherds of Israel, and saying if there's a job worth doing, it's worth God doing it properly.  And now these shepherds are drawing to the cradle of the one who will be the shepherd of shepherds.

By far my favourite carol is "In the Bleak Midwinter". And I know some people of more literal tendencies than mine get a grump on about it sometimes - they say it wasn't snowing. But I say to you - firstly if you're super-literal - yes it can snow in Bethlehem.
And secondly - forget the meteorology. Enjoy the poetry. And then having come for the poetry, stay for the theology. Christina Rosetti pours out verse after verse of the most amazing wonders. The one who heaven isn't big enough for, in a manger. The one who can receive the praise of angels and archangels - just needs his mother's breast and somewhere to lay his head. The one who will tear up the heavens and earth - needing a roof over his head for shelter.
And maybe the shepherds brought a lamb - we're not told. But they did all they had to do. The saw the baby. They were amazed, they went out and spread the good news. God has come to earth with an angel train - and they have seen God as a child with their own human eyes. And they fade from the story, go back to the hills. And in keeping with Gabriel's instructions, the baby is called Jesus - because this weak baby in the manger is going on to fight the devil, defeat death, and save his people. The shepherd of shepherds is going to grow up to be the king of kings.

1 comment :

  1. Yes, it most definitely can snow in Bethlehem. I was there in a group of pilgrims about 20 years ago, and it started to snow as we left the Church of the Holy Nativity to return to Jerusalem. Next morning in Jerusalem there were three feet of snow, the heaviest fall in 30 years, we were told.


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