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Shepherds

Luke 2:10

“Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people;” (NASB) 

 Throughout the Christmas narrative, the Angels of the Lord appeared to announce the coming of the Messiah.  They spoke to a priest, a carpenter, a teenage girl and a bunch of shepherds. Why this cast of characters?

 The teenage girl we know. She was going to give birth to the Messiah of Israel, the Savior of the World: Jesus Christ. On a need to know basis, she needed to know.

 Why the priest?  God sent His angel to speak to Zacharias because of who his wife was, not because of what he did for a living. Zacharias and Elizabeth, both well advanced in their age, were about to be the proud parents of a bouncing baby prophet: John the Baptist. After years of wanting a child, followed by years of wishing they could stop longing for one, the angel of the Lord came with a message, that God answered their prayers. They would have a child. But not just any child, this one was the forerunner of the Messiah, the one that would cry out, "Prepare ye the way of the Lord."

 Why the carpenter? Not because of his vocation either. God sent His angel to speak to Joseph because of who his wife was going to be, not because of what he did for a living. Matthew 1:20-21 tells the story: " . . .an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, 'Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife; for that which has been conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit. [21] And she will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for it is He who will save His people from their sins." 

 Mary I understand, Zacharias I understand and Joseph I understand-they were all personally involved. In a sense, they were family they needed to know. But why the shepherds?

 People didn’t admire Shepherds during Biblical times. They are called loathsome in Genesis 46:34. In fact, being a shepherd was considered punishment. Numbers 14:33 says, "And your sons shall be shepherds for forty years in the wilderness, and they shall suffer for your unfaithfulness, until your corpses lie in the wilderness." 

 "The shepherds were despised by the orthodox good people of the day. Shepherds were quite unable to keep the details of the ceremonial law; they could not observe all the meticulous hand washings and rules and regulations. Their flocks made far too constant demands on them; and so the orthodox looked down on them as very common people." (Barclay, p. 17) 

 The angel of the Lord appeared to these common men-- these loathsome men, to give a glorious message. And when the shepherds saw the glory of God that accompanied the angel, they had a healthy, holy fear. With a fear of the Lord, the shepherds were spiritually prepared to hear the angel's message. "Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people;" (Luke 2:10 NASB)

 As the angel disappeared, the shepherds looked over their flocks and realized that the "Lamb slain from the foundation of the world," would soon be born, and He will save the people from their sins.

 The good news wasn't just for the elite religious community or for those who would care for the Messiah as He grew to become a man, it was for "all the people"-even shepherds. Even me. And even you. 

 With the Bethlehem candle, we celebrate the humility of Jesus and that this great event took place in a heretofore insignificant village.  With the Shepherd candle we are reminded that the message of good news of great joy is for all the people—even Shepherds.

 I’ve mentioned that shepherds weren’t necessarily respected during these times, but I haven’t mentioned how difficult the job was.  The shepherds led sacrificial lives, working long hours in difficult situations to insure the welfare of the flock.  At times, they even had to risk their lives to protect those under their care.  Remember what David said to Saul in 1 Samuel 17:34-35?  “I am a shepherd for my father's sheep. Whenever a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, [35] I went after it, struck it, and rescued the sheep from its mouth. If it attacked me, I took hold of its mane, struck it, and killed it.” (GW)

 Can you imagine anyone wanting to do this job?  The shepherd would have to risk his life for the sheep and endure the disrespect of society at the same time.  What amazes me even more about this is that Jesus called Himself the “Good Shepherd.”  John 10:11-14 says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. [12] The hired man, since he is not the shepherd and doesn’t own the sheep, leaves them and runs away when he sees a wolf coming. The wolf then snatches and scatters them. [13] [This happens] because he is a hired man and doesn’t care about the sheep. [14] “I am the good shepherd. I know My own sheep, and they know Me,” (HCSB)

 In John, Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd but in the book of Revelation John identifies Jesus as a lamb.  Revelation 5:12 says, “and they cried out in a loud voice: ‘Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power and riches, wisdom and strength, honor and glory and blessing.’” (NAB)  And here’s where the analogy gets interesting. 

 It could be that these were common shepherds, tending the flocks to harvest their wool or provide product for the meat market.  Or it could be that this was a special flock, a flock that would be used by the priests to make sacrifice for the sins of the people.  The message of the Shepherd candle could be that God thought enough of the disenfranchised that He sent His angel to give them a heads up that Jesus was about to be born.  Or it could be much more.  Because they worked in an unclean profession, the rules of the temple worship would have prohibited them from entering into its courts.  Now think about this for a minute.  They were tending to lambs that the Priests would use in sacrifice for the sins of those who were worthy to enter the temple gates, but not for them because they were unworthy.  In preparation for the coming of “the lamb slain before the foundation of the world,” God send His angels to tell Mary, a temple priest and a carpenter, Mary’s future husband that the Savior of the world is about to be born.  Each of them had a stake in knowing.  But He also sent an angel to tell another group of people.  People who’d spent their lives watching the lambs that would be sacrificed for the sins of others to tell them that a Savior—their Savior would be born.

 Rick and Bobbie Sandefur are working with local business owners and the Hope's Point Baptist Church to give presents to the 200 inmates in the Shelby County Jail.  “Everyone I know has made a mistake. I don't know any perfect people, do you?" Bobbie Sandefur said.

 According to news reports, not everyone in Shelbyville like the idea saying, “the inmates don't deserve anything for Christmas.” (http://www.freshministry.org/illustrations.html)

 Perhaps these people get their Christmas theology from the song, “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town” that says, “He's making a list and checking it twice, gonna find out who’s naughty and nice.”  In other words, only the righteous deserve a Christmas gift.  How counter to the true message of Christmas.  The good news of great joy isn’t just for the good people; it is for all the people.  Even people who’ve committed great sins. 

 Listen to the words one more time:  “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which shall be for all the people;” For all the people.  Even Shepherds.

 The light shinning from this third candle reminds us that God did more than show a courtesy to the disenfranchised, He sent His son to die on the cross for their sins.  Not just for their sins, but for yours too.  Has there been a time in your life when you’ve accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord?  If not, I pray that you will do so today.

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