Summary: This series looks at the 5 stories after Jesus was born and the one thing whic unites all of them: their search for the Christ.. IN this sermon we see when God wanted to announce the birth of His son, he went to the lowest of the low, reminding us that Go
Shepherds and Sheep Interrupted
In this series, we’ve been looking at the Scriptures about the birth of Jesus which we don’t get to very often. The first three have been the stories after the birth of Christ but today we come to our first story before the birth of Christ. This is a familiar passage as I preach on it at least every other year and we sing about it in Christmas. When we think of shepherds, we tend to romanticize them. While Psalm 23 portrays the role of a shepherd in a most honorable way, but by the time of Jesus, shepherding and shepherds were despised– one scorned by observant Jews as unclean. In the first century, shepherds were on the lowest socio-economic rung of the social ladder. The Egyptians consider shepherds dirty and unclean. Jews were from a long line of shepherds. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all shepherds. But shepherds were people who were less educated and even illiterate, they lived in poverty. You might own sheep but if you were tending sheep at night, you were either the youngest child of the family or a hired hand. And it’s stil that way today in the Holy Land. There are still shepherds throughout Israel who keep watch over their flocks. The problem with shepherds is that their sheep roam for food and so think that if a flock wandered onto your home’s property and began to eat your shrubs and flowers, how you would feel about that? Now you may understand a little better why shepherds were not liked and often thought negatively. Shepherds were dirty and smelly since they lived with the sheep and smelled like the sheep. They were considered, small, insignificant and nobody wanted much to do with them.
Some rabbis in Jesus’ day held that shepherds, because of the wandering trespass nature of their profession, could never be forgiven because they could never make retribution for the grasses their flocks ate (stole) from someone else’s land. The religious culture of that day therefore considered shepherds reprehensible people practicing a shameful profession. It was to just this kind of a hopeless person living in chronic, cultural shame that God directed the angels to announce His incredible Good News! In other words, when he wanted to announce the birth of His son, he went to the lowest of the low, reminding us that God chooses and uses and has a heart for the low and the humble. Over and over again, we see this lesson in the people God chooses to accomplish His will. Joseph was a poor carpenter who lived in a place so insignificant that it was even listed on the map. When Jesus was born, he was born in a stable and his first bed was a feeding trough. And that’s what we find in the story of the shepherds. God chooses and uses the lowly and the humble. It’s kind of like the Garth Brooks song, “I have friends in low places.” This is the spirt and the heart of the God we serve who has friends in low places.
From the very beginning, God seemed to be saying that the birth of His son was for the lowly, the poor, the destitute, the outsiders. We need to be reminded that no matter your station in life, whether you are receiving governmental assistance or are living paycheck to paycheck or are living comfortably, we are well off. We live in one of richest countries in the world and to have a shelter over our head, food in our stomach, clothes on our back, electricity in our homes, clean, disease- free running water and a bathroom makes us rich in comparison to third world countries. Almost half the world, 3 billion people live on less than $2.50 a day. At least 80% of humanity lives on less than $10 a day. 1 in three have inadequate shelter. 1 in 5 have no access to water. 1 in 7 have no access to health care. The world’s richest, of which you and I are a part comprise 20% of the world’s population but consume 80% of the world’s resources. I think one thing that God was saying by coming to the shepherds is that Christmas, Jesus’ birth, is about the poor, the least and the last. I think that raises a question of how much of our focus this Christmas and in our Christmas giving is focused on the poor and those in need in our community and across the world? What have you done this Christmas to alleviate the suffering, hunger and disease of those living in poverty and by doing so, letting them know that Jesus shares in their suffering and came to them.
Normal practice was that a shepherd would lead the sheep to water and fields to graze on during the day and then put the sheep in a pen at night, usually in a cave which only had one way in and one way out. These sheepfolds made protecting the sheep a lot easier. But that raises the question, Why were the sheep in the fields late at night when it was so dangerous? What might have caused that when normal practice would be to have these sheep secured in sheepfolds? Two possibilities are suggested. Either these herds are too large to fit in even the largest of sheepfolds; or it may be the time of birthing so that the sheep needed to stay in the feeds rather than a crowded pen.