Advent Week 3: Digging In, Holding On

I read this great article about shepherds.

“You need to be tough as old boots. Imagine working for weeks on end in the rain, and then snow, and lambs dying of hypothermia, with the difference between life and death being you and your knowledge. Even if you do your best they still die, and you will need to keep going. The romance wears off after a few weeks, believe me, and you will be left standing cold and lonely on a mountain. It is all about endurance. Digging in. Holding on.”

Reading about what is required as a shepherd is giving me a little more insight into why the first group of people to get a visit from the angels were shepherds. According to Luke there were four visits from angels, possibly the same angel. Zacharias, then Mary, then Joseph, then shepherds. So a devout old priest, the mother of Jesus, the father of Jesus and shepherds. (One of these things is not like the other…) That song from Sesame Street just came played in my head.

Back to the shepherds. I love that line from the article, “It’s all about endurance. Digging in. Holding on.” I can’t read that enough or say it enough to myself this morning. It’s true. The shepherds knew that. Zacharias knew that from his long life as a priest. Mary and Joseph had a glimpse of this truth through having a child out of wedlock and making the journey to Bethlehem. They would learn this truth more and more as they raised Jesus and his siblings. It is all about endurance. Digging in. Holding on.

Shepherds knew this truth all too well. They were at the bottom of the social rung, outcasts, you might even say homeless since they primarily slept outside with their flock. There was a strong prejudice against them, especially from rabbi’s and religion leaders. They would have not only felt the pain of their occupation, but also the internal pain of their position in society. If anyone near the birthplace of Jesus needed saving it was the shepherds. Into that context Luke writes:

“There were some shepherds living in the same part of the country, keeping guard throughout the night over their flocks in the open fields. Suddenly an angel of the Lord stood by their side, the splendour of the Lord blazed around them, and they were terror-stricken. But the angel said to them,

“Do not be afraid! Listen, I bring you glorious news of great joy which is for all the people. This very day, in David’s town, a Savior has been born for you. He is Christ, the Lord. Let this prove it to you: you will find a baby, wrapped up and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12)

Three statements stand out to me:

all people; Savior; has been born for you

Some might say these shepherds were the most human, the most real of all those living around Bethlehem. They knew pain, joy, loss, sacrifice, friendship, wonder. They were not only the ones to first hear the news of the baby being born, but they were the first ones to tell others. Their message was about a Savior being born just down the road from where they were tending their sheep. These men who brought this message of hope understood, it is all about endurance. Digging in. Holding on.

The message of the shepherds was that a baby had come into the world. This baby would  learn that it’s all about endurance. Digging in. Holding on. Not only would baby Jesus learn this as he grew, but he would eventually embody this message as a man, showing all who dare to follow him that it is all about endurance. Digging in. Holding on.

Maybe that is why Jesus calls himself the good shepherd.