I have no idea what it was like to be a shepherd, working on the hills outside Bethlehem a couple of thousand years ago. We are told that the shepherds were considered to be the lowest of the low in those days. I’m not sure who we would compare them with today? Street cleaners or bin men perhaps? What I hadn’t thought about before was that the second king of Israel, the one whose name I share, also started his working life as a shepherd. Nobody could dispute the greatness of King David, but the Bible also records his weaknesses and some of his worst failures too. It is good to know that God uses people who fail, particularly when they recognise and admit to their failures and weaknesses.
In human terms Jesus also had a background that raised eyebrows among the rich and the powerful. But when Jesus was born it was the first time since Eden where human beings had the opportunity to look directly at God. This time they also had the ability to touch Him, even hold Him in their arms. Funny old world isn’t it? Jesus born as a baby and held in the arms of humans when since the beginning of time God has been carrying us!
I don’t think any of the shepherds held the baby Jesus. These were men who had just had a supernatural experience. They were probably still shaking from the angelic visitation when they entered the stable. God had arrived into their world in human form and they probably collapsed in a heap on their knees in front of the manger.
When the lowest of the low knelt before the Highest of the High their lives were changed forever. Scripture does not tell us how their lives were changed, but it tells us how our lives should be changed when we have knelt before the Highest of the High. And that perhaps is our problem. We don’t come to Jesus in the way that the shepherds came. We have no sense of awe, and after the first time we only come back because we have a shopping list of things we want Him to do for us. Happy Christmas Jesus! These are the things I want.
What about the things that Jesus wants? God gave us Jesus. When we respond to God’s gift should we really be asking for more gifts? There are things that God has been teaching me of late. The first is that I know nothing and I need to be taught. Like the disciples I need to listen to the Teacher and I will make mistakes. The second is that I need to stop telling God what I want, what I think I need, what I think would help Him to do a better job of sorting out my life, my family, my church, my whatever. Why? Because it isn’t about me.
There is only one prayer I need to come to God with daily, and it is a simple question: “What do you want me to do?” I/we have to think differently and seek God’s will in everything. And I need to re-experience the awe that I had the first time He called to me. This Christmas I need to be on my knees before the Christ-child because there is no other place to be, and actually – this is the only gift I have that is worth bringing to Jesus.
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not 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 cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
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. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2: 8-20 NIV)