God speaks in unusual places to those we would be tempted to look right past.
"Jesus I know something about ... God, not so much," she said. And she was not alone. Over the years, people have offered the same sentiment. Yet if we take note of the details surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ, we learn a lot about the heart of God the Father. For instance, there were three angelic appearances announcing the coming of the Son of God: to Mary, to Joseph--humble and open to the hand of God in their lives; then a third appearance to a group of shepherds. Surely this third yuletide visitation on a hillside outside of Bethlehem is the most glorious. O to have been there! Picture with me the barren, rocky landscape - [this is the land in the picture above...we will once again stand in Bethlehem looking down at this striking, still barren, area] - we do not know how many shepherds or how many sheep, but suddenly in the dark of night, an angel appears to them, surrounding them with the light of God's brilliant glory. Take a look at Luke's rendering... And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And then, from one angel to a whole sky full of them, announcing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” Wow, wow, wow. Remarkably the shepherds were the first people to learn that the Messiah had been born in Bethlehem. Why? Why were these lowly members of society chosen to experience the awe-inspiring, world changing announcement? Simply, though others regarded them as unclean and 'beneath them', shepherds were special to God. Long before that night on the hillside, a young David, 'man after God's own heart' was a shepherd before he became the second king of Israel. In his 23rd psalm, David sang "Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I have everything I need! He lets me rest in meadows green and leads me beside the quiet streams."1 O, may that be true of you and me--because Jesus is our Shepherd and we follow him, we live with the assurance we have everything we need. Hmm, I think of the times I have read the verses of Psalm 23 to sick and dying friends and watched as the words of the shepherd wrought such tender comfort. One woman in her last days of breast cancer was suffering from restless leg syndrome, and her family's words just could not calm her troubled body. Beautifully, after I quietly read that psalm to her, her legs were still; there seemed to be a calm that rested on her. Jesus himself would say, "I am the good shepherd ... I know my sheep and my sheep know me."2 This image moves me so very much. I believe that the announcement went to the shepherds first because Jesus himself identifies with the role of the sheep-herder. The Eastern shepherd was, and still is, very different from he who raises tattooed, computer-chip laden sheep in large flocks in other parts of the world. [Actually, this is one of my favorite sightings on the Judean hillsides in Israel: a lone shepherd and his sheep--yes, still today. I took the picture above] In Jesus' day, the shepherd raised the sheep from the time they were little lambs, and maintained responsibility for them twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, for the sheep's lifetime. The very ones that would have witnessed the lit-up sky and glorious singing of the angels were raised in the rocky, hilly Judean countryside with its sparse grass and dangerous ravines. The shepherd nurtured the sheep, lead them to grass and clean water, and into a fold at night for safe keeping. The shepherd knew their names, and they recognized his voice--his special call; they separated themselves out from the rest of the sheep, and followed him, like in this short videoclip: https://vimeo.com/43733804 What a picture of simplicity in following Jesus! Now I see why Jesus called himself the Good Shepherd. Don't miss this part of their announcement that night-- in it, 'JOY' for all people. "I bring you good tidings of great joy that will be for all the people. Today...a Savior has been born...Christ the Lord." All people want joy, and yet like contentment, joy eludes most of us. Hmm. Imagine with me the sheer joy the Father felt as he watched the angels' announcement of the birth of his beloved Son . . . to simple men, followed by the grand choir singing. I am confident God's heart was filled with joy! That thought puts a smile on my face. We will next talk about grabbing ahold of that joy for ourselves, but for now receive this blessing: "The Lord your God is with you, He is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, He will quiet you with His love, He will rejoice over you with singing."3 God rejoices over you! You make God smile. Let God quiet you with His love. Look to him, and let the fact that you are following the Good Shepherd bring you rest. God speaks through how he loves ... not the famous, not the powerful, but those others do not even see--those we might be tempted to walk right past or discount. The Good Shepherd loves you this Christmas! and that is goooood news. Imagine that O Holy Night: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OsfGJuugPUk&list=RDOsfGJuugPUk&start_radio=1&rv=OsfGJuugPUk&t=14 Merry Christmas, dear friends! With love, Christine 1 - The Living Bible, Psalm 23 2 - from John chapter 10 3 - Zephaniah 3.17