I have always loved sheep. I’m not really sure why, but since childhood I have been intrigued by them. As my family would walk along country paths, I would always be the one lagging behind because I was watching the sheep, talking to them, and if there was a brave one or two, scratching them behind their ears. Maybe it was the picture in my mind of King David as a boy shepherd. What young Jewish boy doesn’t have David as his hero, slaying predators and then Goliath?! “The Lord is my shepherd. The Lord is my shepherd. The Lord is my shepherd.” This makes for a good cadence for walking when young feet and legs are getting tired. “Are we almost there yet?” “He leads me on paths of righteousness. He leads me on paths of righteousness. He leads me on paths of righteousness.” I keep moving, step by step. The path is long, dusty, and rocky. But, sometimes when I am tempted to do wrong…I think, He leads me on paths of righteousness, and it helps me to make a much better choice.
At a young age it was determined that I would follow in my father’s footsteps and become a priest. This decision really was a joy to me as I have always wanted to serve Yahweh God. I was part-way through the training by the rabbis and priests when I found out that there were special priests who were shepherds for the Passover lambs.* My heart leapt and I sought out how I could follow this path. My love for and knowledge of sheep helped to procure me this position. And, that is how I ended up being in that field on that most holy of nights.
The flocks of Passover lambs are the only herds of sheep that do not have to go out into the wilderness. We were not too far from Bethlehem. Taking care of the lambs brought me great delight. There was a sense of constant vigilance because for a lamb to be accepted as a Passover sacrifice, it must be free from any injury, defect, or blemish. I loved watching over these precious creatures. While it did pain me to think that most of them would be sacrificed to atone for our sins, it was part of who I was as a young Jewish man. All my life we had celebrated Passover, remembering that the Angel of Death passed over any Jewish household that had the blood of a perfect lamb spread along its door frame. There was great rejoicing every year in remembering God’s miraculous deliverance of the Israelites from the cruel enslavement of the Egyptians.
These thoughts and more often went through my mind as we guarded and cared for these lambs destined to provide the Passover sacrifice. That particular night it was crisp and clear, maybe a little colder than usual. The stars were definitely bright, and as it was my turn to be in the Migdal Tower watching over the sheep and lambs from up above. Tradition stated that the Messiah would come from the “tower of the flock.” I thought of that every time it was my turn to watch from up high in the tower. What did it really mean? So many years, and still no Messiah. Obediently, we continued to follow the Jewish traditions and celebrate the yearly feasts, never losing hope that one day He would come.
Sometimes the nights seemed extra long and I would get sleepy. This night, however, was different. I could never find the words to describe the sense of electricity in the air, but even the sheep seemed to feel it. They wouldn’t settle down, moving from place to place instead of sleeping, and the repeated “baa baa” could be heard instead of the gentle sound of their sleeping breaths. I kept watching for intruders. Were there wolves nearby? Was there a storm brewing somewhere despite the clear sky? Could they hear voices somewhere that we could not hear? “Just keep watching over them,” was the voice I heard from God in my mind.
My eyes were roaming back and forth over the expanse of the field. As I turned to gaze over the field once again, there was an indistinguishable glow, wait, no, it was not a glow, it was a brilliant light! I shouted down to my fellow shepherds from my place in the tower, “What is that amazing light?” I admit it; I was a bit frightened! Then I heard the words, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you today in the city of David, a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”* I had to stop and think. Could I really be hearing an angel announcing the coming of the Christ, the Messiah? But the angel continued to speak, and I had to listen. “And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
Just when I realized I had been holding my breath that whole time the angel was speaking and began to fill my lungs back up with the night air, that majestic angel was joined by a whole multitude of angels! I mean, there was no chance of us ever counting how many, even if all of us shepherds worked together to do so. It was the most amazing thing I had ever seen. Their words of praise filled the air and every cell of our bodies. “Glory to God in the highest! And on earth peace, goodwill to those on whom His favor rests.”
I wanted to shout praises along with them. I wanted to bow down in humble reverence, but that was to come just a while later. We began saying to each other, “Now, we have to go now, right now, to see this baby Savior!” I don’t think we ever ran that fast in our lives. Somehow in our exuberance we found the humble place where Joseph and Mary and the precious newborn baby were. Then the time for humble reverence came. There He was; the most beautiful baby that I ever saw. How could it be that He was wrapped in swaddling cloths? They were the very same cloths we used to protect the Passover lambs.
Tears began to roll down my cheeks. I gazed at this baby, this perfect baby. He was a baby with no blemish, injury, or defect—the perfect Passover Lamb. Our Messiah. God had sent the Messiah in the form of a baby. Our Savior. My Savior. We could not contain ourselves, and yet after a time we left, and all along the way we praised God and told the story to whoever would listen. “For there is born today, for you, a Savior who is Christ the Lord! Glory to God!”
*Scripture passages/references: Psalm 23: 1,3; Luke 2: 4-17; Exodus 11, 12 (NKJV/NIV)
Read through any of the above passages and put yourself into the narrative. What do you hear? See? Smell? What emotions are flowing through you?
What part of the story above most resonates with you? What might God be trying to say to you or wanting to do in your life this Christmas season?
Like the shepherds, go and share the good news of Jesus’ birth!