Saturday, December 12, 2015

The Shepherd's Story

Do you ever wonder what it was like, for the people in the great stories of the bible?  I often think about them.  Specifically, the people in the bible who get one word, a few lines, maybe even a single chapter.  I wonder what they would say if they were here to tell their story.  How would they say it happened? 

Today, let us think about the shepherds in the field on that night.  If they were before you today what would they say?  I would like to think it might sound something like this:

The Shepherd’s Story
I love the night sky.  There is an amazing dance as stars slowly strafe across the heavens.  Sometimes the moon is so bright I see the plains in amazing color and details.  These nights are always enjoyable.  Watching sheep is much easier when you have the light to see.  In the bright moon light I can see a predator skulking around the edge of my flocks.   And I am able to defend against those who would like to harm and destroy my sheep. 
Well I say my sheep, but they really belong to my employer.  I am a shepherd you see.  By trade.  I am the youngest of 11 sons, 2 sisters.  My father is a poor worker hired to plow the land.  He did not have enough for a dowry or to educate us, except for my oldest brother Lemule.  I was not able to learn nor was I able to continue in the family trade, and I was not nearly as beautiful as my sisters, who are married.  My only option was being a herdsman. 

I am called Benyamin, though I hardly take after my father, I would not want to farm.  I love to watch the sheep.  I often volunteer for the night shift.  As I mentioned before I love the night.  And this night, this night was more amazing than most.  

Before I tell you about the past evening I need to let you know: shepherding is often boring.  Many days and nights I will stand on the hill, leaning on my staff, watching these dreary animals eat.  Except when a predator arrives then my job is truly exciting.  Shepherding not for the faint of heart nor faint of butt. 

Where was I?  Yes, these past weeks have been eventful in general, with the census and all.  This is the first time I remember being counted like this.  My father cannot remember another time when a census of this scale has taken place.  As I watch the sheep I meet fantastic people from all around. 

Actually, at times, these travelers who are going to their home of record can make my job harder.  They often stop to talk, ask many impertinent questions about the difficulties of shepherding.  Honestly, I love what I do, when I can do it in peace.  Needless to say, the time of the census is one where there are many distractions from watching the sheep.  That is why I volunteered for the night shift.  If I am going to do my job, doing it during the night would be the most relaxing.  Travelers do not like to walk around at night. 

This particular night, my sheep were exceptionally well behaved.  (I almost wonder if they were expecting the host of visitors, in their outdoor bedroom, that night.)  A handful of us were staying in the same field. 

It is nice to group our flocks together at night because it adds company and greater protection for the sheep.  And in the morning my sheep know my call and they will follow me out of the larger, tangled flock.  But this night they sat and waited. 

I remember making a joke with my friend Eli.  It wasn’t a particularly funny joke.  I cannot even remember what I said to him.  I do remember though that once the punch-line hit the world changed.  The moon was not out this night but the stars were in full force. 

Now I want you to imagine this.  I want you to imagine that every point of light in the night sky simultaneously decided to burn 1000 times brighter.  That every point of light merged into one glorious light that stretched across the sky.  The greater light of the day now seems a dull and dingy yellow hue compared to the perfection of the bright, white, pure, shimmering glory of that night. 

I don’t consider myself a person who can easily be frighten.  I remember one night a bear got into the flock.  It began to wreak havoc on the sheep.  I was terrified but I knew it was my duty to protect these sheep.  I prayed to my Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and set to work. The shepherds who did not flee and I protected the flock from the bear

But, here is my question.  When the power of the one you pray to comes down upon you, in full glory, knowing you will be consumed, because you are inadequate to stand in that light, who do you pray to? 

We were terrified.  The glory before us created worlds, dispatches demons, and brings judgment upon the wicked.  How do you stand before that?  If I had a shovel and I could burry myself into the ground, I doubt that any depth would be sufficient to avoid being ruined by that light.  So we fell to our faces and I think I screamed a little.  But so did the other shepherds. 

Then an angel appeared.  Angels appear to our forefathers, they appear to the priests who watch the temple, they appear to prophets who are the guardians of the covenant, they appear to kings, but they do not appear to shepherds, lowly hands of the field and fiber.  Now, real as day, bright as any light, there they stood before us.  My first thought was what did I do to earn this judgment, they are coming to destroy me, a bit overkill if I do say so myself. 

Then the angel of the Lord’s hosts began to speak.  “Do not be afraid,” he told us.  That is like a charging lion telling a gazelle, “have no fear.”  The angel in soft and strong tones spoke to us.  The ground shook at the power of the proclamation and the kindness in his voice comforted our souls.  Our fear, but not our reverence to the holy messenger for the King of kings, subsided.  “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a savior has been born to you he is Christ the Lord.” 

Can it be?! Can it be; the awaited Messiah the awaited Lord has arrived?  I know my father, and some of the rabbis, spoke of the servant of the Lord.  Isaiah foretold it from the word of God.  Can it be this very night?!  The angel continued, “This will be a sign to you: you will find the baby rapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 

I once met a traveler who frequented the Coliseum.  He said it hosted 20,000 Roman citizens.  He told me that when the decisive moment was struck the roar of the crowed thundered and deafened. Mere mice! Mere mice compared to the triumphant declaration of this detachment of Heavenly messengers.  There was 1000s of them if there was one, and they began to sing, 

“Glory to God in the highest to God and Peace on earth to men on whom his favor rests”

And as suddenly as they appeared they vanished.  Pulling myself from the ground I wondered if I had fallen asleep.  However, I knew, once I saw my friends, also wiping tears from their eyes, this was no dream.  “We must do as the angel said, and go to Bethlehem!” I told my friends. 

We quickly cast lots to see who would stay behind.  I praise the Lord, every day, the lot did not fall to me.  We soon left.  Climbing the road that lead up to Bethlehem we walked in relative quiet.  We were still remarkably dumbstruck by the power of the angels’ song.  Peace on earth, glory to God, our king and savior is born! 

We began asking inn keepers if they knew of any pregnant tenants.  Most said no, some did not know or care.  But there was one, who was a bit ashamed, he sheepishly said to us, “there is a lady who just gave birth.  I wanted to put her in the house but none of the higher paying tenants were willing to move from their room.  So, she is out in the stables.  I think they are using the feeding troth and clean hay as the baby’s first bed.  It really is a humble thing to behold.” 

How could it be, that one who deserves an angelic birth announcement was born in a manger?  We told the innkeeper about the birth song and he solemnly turned and shut the door (I do not know if he turned in shame or incredulity).  We went around back.  The young woman and her betrothed were gracious to us as they allowed us to see the baby.  I even was allowed to hold him.  I held the newborn King! 

If he can afford angels why is he here in a food-troth for animals?  What a meager beginning.  I believe that when Caesar’s child was born they had a grand proclamation and celebration to declare his son’s arrival, and Caesar does not command angels.  

Standing there knew that it was now upon us.  Though we may not be the type to be in the employ of a king, especially for such an auspicious occasion, we knew this baby deserved a grand proclamation.

That is why I am before you today.  I want to share with you what I saw and what I heard and what I know!  I know this, that tonight, in the city of David, a baby has been born to us.  He is the King of Peace, and the one who was foretold by the prophets.  He is the awaited anointed messiah and we come to declare the Lord’s favor on this generation.  Come, let us adore him. Come, let us adore him.  Come, let us adore him: Christ the king. 

I share this story with you that you will share it with others.  Let all of the land know that our savior has come!

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