How am I responding to Jesus as the Christmas season approaches?
With joy? With reverence? With dread? With overwhelm? Indifference? Distraction? Gratitude? Or curiosity?
This Advent, I will post a series called “What is my response to Jesus?” It’s intended to be open-ended question that each reader must answer for him or herself. I like to think of Jesus’s birth as a wonderful drama that slowly unfolds, disrupting our ordinary lives and leaving us in awe of his sovereignty. This is the second post. Featuring the shepherds. This is my way of preparing my heart and mind for Advent and Christmas 2021, and I hope it prepares you for the season in the midst of all the gatherings, the gift-buying and wrapping, church commitments, decorating, Christmas letter writing and baking.
How do you think employees at a daycare center would respond if President Joe Biden interrupted the day with an invite to the White House? What if the President had a gift just for them? This occupation is invisible and thankless with low wages that the general public ignores.
This is pretty much how shepherds are perceived in Biblical times. Working with sheep is stinky, dirty, hard labor undervalued by “civilized” society. And yet, God chooses shepherds to be his first publicists of the best news ever.
What is the significance of God choosing to share the birth announcement of his son with shepherds? Why didn’t he start with the influential and wealthy?
Taking care of sheep is hard work, and not much different than caring for toddlers. Both tend to wander off without warning from the rest of the flock, and the shepherd must hunt them down. A shepherd leads sheep to water and maintains constant vigilance to protect them from predators because they don’t have a defense mechanism of camouflage. Given their stocky, chubby bodies and short legs, sheep are often off balance and fall over. A sheep may have originated the phrase, “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up.” A shepherd must upright them.
God choose to honor the shepherds because they were otherwise ignored in that culture. Second Corinthians 1:27 says “But God chooses the foolish things of this world to shame the wise; God chooses the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chooses the lowly things of this world and the despised things . . .” I could fill another blog post with the countless comparisons to Jesus as our shepherd and his followers as sheep. This comparison may seem insulting until we gain a deeper understanding of our helplessness before the Lord.
How did the shepherds initially react when the angels suddenly lit up the night sky as bright as high noon and sang of the news of Jesus’ birth? Absolute terror. You and I would be just as rattled. But then Luke 2: 8-16 continues to describe the scene. “But the angel said to them, don’t be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David, a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger.” In essence, the angels were inviting the human shepherds to go meet one of the greatest of all Shepherds.
Now, I’m not sure just exactly what the shepherds did with their sheep, but they didn’t just return to their job and carry on as if nothing happened. They were compelled to action! They were consumed with an urgent desire to go find this child! Suddenly nothing was more important than finding the Shepherd.
When you’ve been touched by the Divine, you can’t go back to living your previous life. Your heart is changed. Your priorities change. When Jesus called his first disciples, Peter, Andrew and John – all fisherman – they abandoned their livelihood to become fishers of men. They knew Jesus was on to something bigger and better than themselves. They were ordinary men drawn to the Divine. Just like the Magi. Mary and Joseph’s lives were forever changed, and not just because they became first time parents, but in parenting the Divine child.
While God doesn’t expect everyone to permanently quit their day jobs to follow him, he does require obedience, and the shepherds’ immediate response in finding the child was pleasing to the Lord. And they couldn’t hold in their joy! They were bursting to share with the Holy family everything the angels told them.
God used the shepherds’ immediate obedience and story to confirm for Mary what another Angel had revealed to her about her immaculate conception and the child’s identity. My guess is that this teenager appreciated the shepherd’s testimony. After enduring an unexpected pregnancy, an uncomfortable donkey ride to Bethlehem, and no midwife while giving birth in a dirty, cold cave surrounded by animals – probably not what she imagined her first birth experience was going to be like – she was, indeed in God’s will. Chosen. Loved. Favored.
What is my response to this birth announcement? If Angels stopped me in traffic while I’m running errands, would I be annoyed at the interruption and delay, or would I quickly adjust my schedule to go search for the Christ child? How eager am I to share with others what the Holy Spirit reveals, and what the Lord is doing in my life, for the sake of encouragement and spreading joy? Do I see interruptions as divine invitations?
Dear Heavenly Father, I thank you for the amazing gift of your son, Jesus. Please work in my heart to make me more responsive and more obedient to your guidance and direction. When you say “go,” I need to ask “where” rather than “Now isn’t a good time.” Please keep my heart open and receptive to interruptions by angels or the Holy Spirit. When you need me to listen, help me slow down enough to do so. When you need me to go seek and find, may I do so with a good attitude.