Sunday, December 11, 2011

Take 5 with Kathy - "While shepherds watched..."

From my nativity scene
Luke 2:8 says, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.” (NIV)

In the narrative of the birth of Christ, the shepherds played a significant role. But what do we really know about them? Why did God choose shepherds to be among the first individuals to witness the birth of the Messiah?

On Friday evening, I attended our church’s annual performance of “This Very Night”, a pageant of drama and music portraying the events surrounding this historical event. While the entire presentation was captivating and moving, I was especially struck by the realism as the peasant people of the day walked in with live animals – chickens, goats, a rabbit, a duck, and sheep. As the narrator recounted some of the Biblical account, sheep were “Baaaa…ing” in the background and while it was comical, it made the story spring to life. Another highlight for me was seeing our precious little children dressed up in shepherd and angel costumes and singing with great enthusiasm. Most of them knew every word!

Watching a shepherd in Scotland
Shepherds are referred to many times in Scripture. One of the first professions recorded in human history is that of the shepherd, Abel (Genesis 4:2). Other well-known shepherds were Abraham, Lot, Isaac, Jacob, Rachel, Joseph, David, and Amos. In the Old Testament times, shepherding was a respectable, though humble, calling and sometimes a source of great wealth (Genesis 13:2-6). It was often a lonely and solitary life as they would spend many days, nights, and weeks in distant fields and hillsides tending to their flocks. Since sheep are totally dependent on their shepherd, unable to care for themselves, the welfare of a flock was subject to the attentiveness and caring nature of this person. A dedicated shepherd was willing to risk his own life for his flock by fighting off predators and rescuing lost or wounded sheep.

Taken in village centre of Zermatt, Switzerland
In the time of Jesus’ birth, however, shepherds were a despised class of people, had  a bad reputation as being dishonest and thieves, and were considered “unclean” by Jewish religious leaders. As such, they were unable to observe certain ceremonial rites and could not testify in court. We don’t know if the shepherds in Luke’s account were of such reputation, but they would, at the very most, be looked down upon and treated with suspicion.[i]

This makes me wonder why God would choose for them to be the first to hear of the birth of Christ, the Messiah. Did they know anything of the Old Testament prophecies that caused them to be more open to the good news the angels told? Or were they just curious? Shocked that the angels would appear and speak to them?

What we do know is the shepherds recognized this message came from the Lord, they hurried to find and visit the baby, and then spread the word about Jesus to anyone who would listen. The result…all those who heard the message were amazed at what the shepherds said. (Luke 2:8-18)

Taken in Wengen, Switzerland
I find it very significant that when Jesus grew up and began to minister, He often used sheep and the shepherd to teach people valuable lessons about their relationship between God and themselves. He even referred to Himself as “The Door”, “The Gate”, and “The Good Shepherd” who would give His life for the sheep. Those who choose to believe in Him will have forgiveness of sins and eternal life. (John 10:1-30)

West End Baptist
Halifax, NS
These lowly shepherds who were the first to visit the infant Jesus would later be restored to a place of honour by the Good Shepherd as He repeatedly used this powerful analogy to lead His own flock of believers and disciples. Before He returned to Heaven, Jesus passed along this ministry to Peter saying, “Feed my lambs and take care of them.” (John 21:15-16) As a follower of Christ, I also have this responsibility and it is one I take very seriously and have dedicated my life to this calling. It is an honour to be given the opportunity to shepherd some of God’s flock here on earth!

Here is another of my favourite Christmas carols:

        While shepherds watched
        Their flocks by night
        All seated on the ground
        The angel of the Lord came down
        And glory shone around

Until next Sunday,



  1. Thanks for this devotional today. I hadn't heard that perspective on the shepherds before -that they were lowly members of society that were among the first to witness Jesus's birth. Have a blessed Sunday. Pamela

  2. This is wonderful for you to share! I'm so glad that He is our great Shepherd to watch over us.
    Merry Christmas!

  3. What a neat post. I never knew anything about shepherds and they sure do play a role in a fair amount of scripture and carols.

    Thanks for being a part of Seasonal Sundays.

    - The Tablescaper


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