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"Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy
which shall be for all the people;" (NASB)
Today we light the Shepherd Candle. Most of us don't know a whole lot
about shepherds. When you thumb through the classifieds in the local paper,
you'll not find many ads for shepherds today. Personally, I always think
of children wearing their Dad's bathrobes in a Christmas play when I hear
the word shepherd, what about you?
Shepherds weren't admired in 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)
God specializes in reaching the unreachable. People like the shepherds
in the first century and people like Michael Braithwaite of Putney, Kentucky,
today. Until recently, according to an Associated Press, November 27, 2002
news story, Braithwaite owned a sex shop that sold leather goods and porn
paraphernalia, but he now sells Bibles after he underwent a religious conversion
a month ago during a prayer meeting and was baptized a few days later.
"This shows that the Lord loves and wants to save everybody," said Evangelist
Shaun Aslinger, "even the man who runs the adult novelty store."
He dropped the old name, "Love World," and now calls his store "Mike's
Place." He covered the formerly bright red walls with a fresh coat of white
paint. Braithwaite, with tears gathering in his eyes, said God persuaded
him to close the shop, burn $10,000 worth of sex toys and open the bookstore.
A pile of ashes in his parking lot is all that remains of his former inventory.
Some of his customers have been shocked to walk into the building to
find a shelf of Bibles where unmentionables used to be displayed.
"When the Lord gets a hold of you, you make some changes," said Braithwaite,
Braithwaite's transformation reminds me that no one is beyond God's
reach-not a porn dealer, and not me. And not the despised shepherds.
It could be that these were common shepherds who tended flocks to be
sold for their meat or wool. Or it could have been that the sheep they
tended were used as lambs for the ceremonial temple sacrifice.
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 you. The Shepherd's candle reminds us of that glorious
fact and our responsibility to share that good news with others.
My prayer for you this Christmas is that you might experience the glory
of God. If you've never experienced the good news that the angel of the
Lord brought to the shepherd that you might do so today.