Friday, December 16, 2022

Called to be a Shepherd

The shepherds are some of my favorite characters in the Advent story, mostly because they show so clearly that God often uses the lowly and despised among us to demonstrate His power and righteousness.

Paul explains in 1 Corinthians: 

“For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)
The night of Jesus’ birth is described in songs as quiet and peaceful. I can’t imagine Bethlehem was actually calm with so many people milling about the town for the census. Maybe the countryside was quiet. But Kelly Nikondeha warns us about interpreting the “silent and holy night” as calm. She explains,
“It is a signature of privilege to associate peace with a quiet night. For those who live on the edges of the empire, nightfall increases the possibility of danger. Snapping branches, unexpected pops, unidentified rumbling of poachers and natural predators you cannot see through the darkness make for uneasy nights. Trouble can come from any direction. Silence for shepherds is always thick with jeopardy. They know what can be lost before the dawn” (p. 90).
We talk so much about the shepherd’s humble status and their astonishing arrival as Jesus’ first guests—but I often wonder at their occupation. It was lowly work. The work of sons for a father. When a grown man was a shepherd, he worked as a hired hand. It is clear that shepherding was not a calling.

And yet, God called (and prepared) these particular laborers to be the first to hear the news of Jesus’ birth.

We cannot confuse lowly with easy, however. A shepherd had to always be on high alert, almost becoming one with their sheep to better observe any changes or dangers in their midst. Nikondeha describes it this way: “These shepherds, who never made the mistake of equating quiet with peace, minded the sheep and the dark with equal vigilance” (p. 91).

What about being a shepherd was preparing them for what would happen next?

We know from Luke’s account in chapter 2 that the shepherds were terrified when the angels appeared (as anyone would be!). But I wonder if they were relieved and thankful for the obvious light and noise. This was no revelation sulking in the shadows. It was bold and glorious. And it provided something new.

We know Jesus called Peter, Andrew, James, and John to be His disciples after watching them fish. He declared they would no longer fish for fish, but that they would be fishers of men.

I wonder if God was preparing these shepherds to become shepherds of people.

Luke 2:16-18, and 20 reads:

“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. . . The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”
We don’t know anything about the shepherds after this—whether they remained shepherds in the fields, or whether God’s revelation transformed their work. But we do know this: Nothing in God’s story is insignificant. He prepared each one of the shepherds for their role and their participation that day. And because of that, their lives were forever changed.

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