Thursday, December 18, 2008

Bethlehem's Shepherds, Sheep & Ninjas(?)

(I just added the 'Ninjas' thing to pique interest... sorry.)

Here are a few thoughts that I've shared at church recently. I don't intend for this to become any sort of 'Sermon-Blog', but this one was a little tamer than most, and its Advent... so...

Bethlehem was a humble town, even to shepherds…
…and there were plenty of shepherds coming from and living near Bethlehem.

And its got me to thinking. I’ve been wondering this week; What exactly do shepherds do as they “abide in the fields”…
How does it work? Do they have hobbies?
What’s the favorite shepherd game? How does a shepherd live his life and pass the time?

We have some answers. Take a look at Bethlehem’s most famous shepherd, David.
Excuse me, ‘King’ David.

He had made hobbies of music and poetry – and being really good at what he was there to do.
David could hurl a stone faster, farther, and more accurately than anyone around Bethlehem. He could also write a song, play it, and sing along better than nearly anyone in Israel.

But this shepherd-boy from Bethlehem wasn’t your usual shepherd. And he was only out-shined by one other famous boy from the little city who came along many years later…

Usually, shepherds were a bit more rustic. More coarse… but the role of a shepherd is also very giving, quite sacrificial. A shepherd is constantly thinking of his sheep – constantly living for the sake of his flock.

Shepherds did a lot of wandering around with their flocks. Miles and miles were regularly traveled in order to attain food and water for those under their care. Therefore, “abiding in the fields” would have been a regular part of the job…

Luke 2 (KJV)
8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

The image that I’ve always had of these shepherds in the fields is that of a couple guys sitting on the crest of a hill with sheep scattered to and fro about a moonlit nightscape. But things may’ve been a little different. Sheep are not nocturnal. Sheep don’t like to be alone at night. Shepherds are not nocturnal. Shepherds don’t like their sheep to be exposed and wandering at night.

There’s a good likelihood that these shepherds had either found a natural cave or outcropping to lead their sheep into at night, or perhaps we would see what would appear to be a cloud of wool on the ground as the sheep bedded down in a tight clump – dogs and men stationed around as lookouts.

Either way, a shepherd’s role was restful vigilance as they led and watched over their flocks.

9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord.
12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,
14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

Constant restful vigilance… and then this!
Why should the shepherds hear about this first?
Why didn’t the kings and wise men know of this child as they did?
Who decided to let these guys in on the news?
“Wow! That’s nice to hear about. Nice of God to send us the message first, but we really couldn’t leave the sheep… could we? Ah, they’ll be fine! Let’s go!”

15And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
16And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

They came with haste! They saw that it was true! These simple shepherds who lived their simple lives, were here in a simple town in the middle of a complicated world…
…our Christ is brought to us in unexpected ways!

And the people of Bethlehem heard about this baby in a way that was much less than expected as well…

17And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.
18And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
19But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.
20And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

The shepherds told everyone! And as they went about their lives “abiding in the fields” they’d tell and they’d share the praises of God.

But there’s a week left before Christmas.
A week before the shepherds are startled awake.
There’s time to prepare…
…there’s time left to tell of the wonders of Bethlehem!

Take a moment to consider what the shepherds learned about that “little town” – how God makes good on His promises in the strangest of ways, to the lowliest of people.

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