Summary: The third week in advent looks at the shepherds and this message looks at how the Shepherds experience mirrors our Christian experience.
Go Tell It On the Mountain
It wasn’t the world’s oldest profession but it was close! I mean you know what the world’s oldest profession is right? That’s right, farming. Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain the oldest was a farmer, thus making that the world’s oldest profession. What were you thinking? And Abel the younger brother was a shepherd making that the world’s second oldest profession.
If there is one scene that seems to shout Christmas to us it would be the shepherds on the hillside staring in wonder at an angel choir in the sky. And we all know the story and Christmas wouldn’t be complete without the keepers of sheep pressed in tight to see the one would be called the lamb of God.
And although they weren’t lead characters the shepherds were part of the chorus in the production of the first Christmas. When I was in high school our school was known for the great musicals we put on. And during my three years we performed The King and I, South Pacific and the Music Man. And when they were casting the musical they would cast the male lead and the female lead and then the supporting roles. And all those roles had names, and were highlighted in the program. And then they got to the bulk of the players and they were called the Chorus. And that’s where I ended up, in the chorus. But you couldn’t have the musical without the chorus. If you just had the leads you wouldn’t have a musical you would just have a small ensemble.
In the same way there were the leads in the Christmas story, Mary and Joseph, the angel Gabriel and the baby Jesus. They get top billing. And then there were the supporting roles. The innkeeper, King Herod and the Wise Men. They got second billing. And then you have the chorus. That would be the angels who we will talk about next week and the shepherds. If you were doing up a program from that first Christmas they would be listed in a group after all the others in the play it would say “and the shepherds.”
But they weren’t just peripheral or window dressing they were a vital part of the story.
Who They Were. I know you are probably thinking, “Hey Denn they were shepherds, duhh. Well sure they were, but what does that mean today. For most of us the closest we’ve ever come to a shepherd is wearing a wool sweater and eating lamb chops. And so because when we think of shepherds we immediately shift to the Christmas story we have kind of romanticize who they were what they did. But really they were just guys who watched sheep. Probably wasn’t an intensive training program for the job and they probably weren’t anywhere near the top of the economic heap. Nor would they have been near the top of the social heap or even the religious heap.
The problem was their jobs, the demands of the flock were so great that even if the shepherds were inclined to be religious all of the rules and regulations of Judaism, with the various hand washings and other parts of the ceremonial law, were out of their reach, so they could never really be “Good Jews”
The second thing we need to look at is Who They Weren’t The biggest surprise here is that they weren’t anyone special. I mean if I was God, creator of all things, master of the universe and I was announcing the birth of my Son I’m not sure that shepherds would have made the short list. Or for that matter the long list. Kings, emperors, potentates they would have been the ones on my list, not the keepers of sheep.
But these guys were just ordinary people with ordinary jobs. Nothing special, just a bunch of shepherds doing what shepherds do, watching their flocks. However in saying that it’s seems as if God has a special place for shepherds, Abel who was commended for his offering was a shepherd, Moses who led the people of Israel out of the slavery of Egypt was a shepherd and David, Israel’s greatest king and the writer of the psalms was a shepherd.
Now that being said there are those who have speculated that even though they were shepherds they may not have been your everyday run of the mill shepherds. Culturally we are told that because of the frequent sacrifices at the temple, every morning and evening an unblemished lamb was to be sacrificed, that the temple authorities kept their own private flock of sheep. And historically we are told that these sheep would have been pastured near Bethlehem. And if all of those things are true then there is a pretty good chance that these shepherds were in charge of the flocks from which the temple offerings were chosen. And if that is the case then it is pretty cool that the birth of the “Lamb of God” who would take away the sins of the world was first announced to those whose job it was to take care of the temple lambs, who were sacrificed for peoples sins.