Summary: First-person narrative, preached in a series of narratives for Advent
A Time for Joy
Greetings, good neighbors—I have a tremendous tale to share with you. My name is Jacob (my father named me after the great patriarch because he admired the man’s shrewdness and ability to get what he wanted). I am by trade a shepherd. Do not worry my friends, I am not out to take anything from you. I am not a thief, I am not a brigand. I wish to harm no one. Indeed, when I am through, I believe you will be glad this shepherd found you.
I know, I know—shepherds cannot be trusted. That’s what everybody says. I truly hate that we have such a reputation. I suppose the part of me that hates it most is the part that realizes that some of us deserve that reputation. Many of my brothers have given surrendered to the views of others. “If they think we’re thieves, drunkards, scoundrels, then why not live up to their expectations!” And so the shepherd in Judea is no longer viewed as an honorable profession. Imagine that! Almighty God in his holy scriptures has been called a Shepherd. Time and again the image is used for the God of our Fathers! Members of the Sanhedrin are often called “shepherds of the flock of Israel.” And now, people hold the profession itself in disdain.
You look quite surprised that a “shepherd” could know holy things of God. Well, just because my work with sheep keeps me ceremonially unclean most of the time, please realize that my heart belongs to my Lord and God. Even though I cannot participate in temple activities, I take great pride in knowing that my work is essential to the functioning of the temple. I help tend the flocks of the Temple. When sacrifice is made for the people of Israel, one of the sheep I watch is the chosen sacrifice. Without me, and my shepherd brothers, the Temple of the Lord would be in dire straights.
But friends, I haven’t stopped you today to justify myself and my profession—I’ve come to give you good news. Last night, the most amazing thing happened. We were out in the fields, taking turns at guarding the sheep throughout the night watches. My friend, Benjamin, and I were watching over the flocks, talking about many things. Benjamin complained once more about our plight—so necessary for the Temple, so distrusted by the people who came to the Temple. Our worship by necessity was out among the stars—out in the fields of our Lord—because we were “people of the Land.” Few thought us worthy to be seen with them, much less worship by their side. Benjamin wondered out loud whether God himself could love a shepherd.
Suddenly, before us in all of his glory, stood an messenger from God—an angel! A pure, golden light, streamed from his presence. A tremendous sense of power and majesty flowed from him.
I do not remember falling to the ground. But there I was—face first in the grass. I knew that my life was over. Surely, no man could see what I had seen and live. In a flash, it seemed that every sin I had ever committed came to my mind. I was ashamed at my lack of holiness—I had faith in the God of Israel—but I knew that I was unclean. I was so afraid—so unready to meet my God!
And then the angel spoke such a gracious word to me and the rest of the Temple shepherds (all of us were quite awake by now). What did he say? “Stop being afraid!” With those words, my fears disappeared. Somehow I knew in my heart that God was not going to take my life. I knew that God still loved me.
“I bring you good news of great joy for all people! This very day in the city of David, a Savior has been born—Christ the Lord has come. A sign is given to you—you will find the baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly, all about us, as far as I could see, there appeared a great host of heavenly creatures. In tones of beauty I cannot describe, this great host began to praise God! They declared with power and love, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.”
And then, they were gone. I stood there, dumbfounded—unable to fully grasp the wonder of what I had just seen. I suppose I would have stayed there the rest of the night, looking up into the sky, if Benjamin had not spoken.
“Come on now, let’s go into Bethlehem—let’s go find the child!” The Lord has spoken to us, we must go and search out what he has shown us.”
We quickly penned the flocks, leaving one young man to stand guard—and then we left for Bethlehem. I have never been so excited in my life. To think, God chose us! God chose us! Most of the good people in Bethlehem would have as little to do with us as possible. When they gathered together to rejoice in the birth of their children, we were not invited to the festivities. We were never allowed to share in the singing that was traditional for the birth of a boy—except of course our own children. The people of Judea might not want us about; but God sent a choir of angels to celebrate the birth of the Messiah—and he sent them to us to announce Messiah’s birth! Can you imagine—God chose us to hear the good news of salvation! I thought my heart my burst with sheer joy.