The Shepherds

As I began writing this sermon, I wondered what sort of story I could possibly use as my opening illustration. As I thought about the points I wanted to make, I decided that Jesus himself gave a perfect allegory. I just made it a little more interesting.

It was early December. Christmas was rapidly approaching. The king of the savanah was preparing for an enormous Christmas Eve banquet. He sent his fastest runners and fliers to distant lands to invite the elite hoity-toity from the four corners of the globe.

"I'm afraid I can't come." said the lord of the eagles. "I have just added to my territory and I must survey the new region."
"I just added a new wife to my harem." wrote the prince of he rabbits. "I really must stay home and break her in."
"It's too hard to swim upstram into the savanah." answered the king of the dolphins.
When all the replies had come back, not one of them carried a positive response.

The king roared in anger. "None of them shall be invited to my feast." he growled. "You messengers, go out again and invite everyone you can find. My banquet hall shall be filled with guests this Christmas eve."
So the messengers did as they were told. From every corner of the globe, guests came. Kangaroos were exchanging jokes with raccoons. Camels hobnobbed with penguins. Everyone was having a wonderful time. Yet there were still many empty places at the table.

"Did you invite everyone you came across?" the king asked his messengers.
"Everyone worth inviting." replied one messenger.
"That's not what I told you to do. Go back again and invite whoever you meet."
"Everyone? Even the stinky or prickly or dirty ones?"

So the messengers went out and invited every animal they could find. Skunks, porcupines, sewer rats, pigs, snakes... no one was overlooked. as they filled his banquet hall, the king found that he liked these new arrivals best of all, for they were grateful, happy and unpretentious.
As the king mingled with his guests, he found two medicine buffalo from North America. They had been on his original guest list, he remembered. "We weren't originally going to come." said one of them to a nearby beaver. "But when you told us just what kind of spread the king had put out, we hopped the first plane available."
"The truth is we don't even LIKE the stupid lion." said the other. "It wouldn't bother us if he were assasinated tonight."
A short while later, a buffet had been set up for the carnivorous animals featuring rare buffalo steaks.

In this series, we've examined many of the various things and people which have heralded Jesus' birth. From each of them, we've gained a little more insight into the nature and person of the messiah. What can we learn from the shepherds?

The first thought that comes to mind is that if a God is going to be born on Earth, the first reaction of most mortals would be to inform the priesthood. After that, they would probably inform the king. And while there were indeed some priests who had been waiting for the messiah and had correctly interpereted the signs of His coming, the vast majority of them, including nearly all of the Sanhedrim, even throughout Jesus' lifetime, remained ignorant to the truth concerning the messiah. The king was certainly no help. Herod the elder wanted to kill Jesus and Herod the younger helped to accomplish this goal.

How sad that the very ones who had been entrusted to spread God's gospel not only failed in their mission but actively fought against the living word.

The "high holy hoity-toity" proved an almost total letdown. But they were not the only ones in the world God was able to use, nor count as his friends.

Shepherds have never been considered part of high society. In nearly every country and era, shepherds are a symbol of poverty. Yet look at what these people did when they were faced with the news of the messiah's birth. They did not stand around and look at each other and say "Can this possibly be true? I mean... we didn't really see angels, did we? That could easily have been a bit of underdone potato causing haluscinations." They said "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing for ourselves!" They went to the stable where Jesus had been born and worshipped him, then they went out and told all of Bethlehem and the surrounding countryside what had happened!

The shepherds were humble people, but they were grateful for what they had, and especially for the gift of the Christ child. They acepted him, they believed in him, and they obeyed the Lord. They were a far more effective witness than all of the priests and kings combined. if you doubt this, go up into the church attic, fish out the costumes from the last Christmas play and count how many priest costumes there are.

This was the sort of people around whom Jesus would build his life. Sure, he had council with priests and stood in the courts of the king, but it wasn't with them that He made His fast friendships. He chose to be born into the house of a carpenter. His friends included fishermen, a tax collector and even a terrorist. He ate with prostitutes and adulterers. He had meaningful conversations with Samaritans, and horror of horrors, he associated with women! He actually had the nerve to befriend women and treat them as equals, teaching them the same things he taught the men.

Jesus once commented that it is easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle (a small door inside a city gate just large enough for a human) than for a rich man to enter Heaven. Not because God hates rich people. He doesn't. But because rich people are too often unwilling to believe that they need Him. Far too commonly, the rich and powerful are too full of themselves to see beyond their own noses, let alone give of themselves to God.

If it was for kings and rich men that Jesus came, Heaven would be very empty indeed.

God sent His angels to witness to the shepherds because THIS was the sort of people with whom He desired to fill Heaven. It was primarily for THEM that Jesus came to Earth. Not the rich and powerful, but the poor and humble who are capable of real and true love.

We can see from acts and the epistles that it was the simple fishermen, tentmakers and such who carried the gospel into the rest of the world. The apostles were not kings or priests. They were simple hardworking people who believed and obeyed.

Of course, Jesus himself was a shepherd. Not a shepherd of sheep, but of believers. He is the fulfillment of a promise made long ago, that David would always have a descendant on the throne. David was the shepherd-king. He grew up as a shepherd and cared so much for his flock that he would gladly put his own life in jeopardy to protect them. Jesus maintains that spirit of the shepherd in that He is not just our leader, but He cares for us so much that He laid down His life to save us.

My challenge to you this week is simply this: Look inside yourselves and ask yourself whether you are a Herod, so concerned with being the master of your own destiny that you would cut off your own salvation, or are you a shepherd, one who is willing to obey and to believe, and in believing God, be counted as righteous?

Pastor Oren Otter
December 3, 2005