Several years ago, while pondering the birth of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, I discovered a few fitting details about the rigorous, devoted lives of ancient shepherds. I regret that I can no longer find their source. Perhaps one of you will recognize the passages and inform me of their origin. As I pondered those details in light of the account of the Savior’s birth, a message divinely intended for parents seemed to illuminate itself. I share it with you in all its tender simplicity. It speaks to Jesus‘ awareness of each of us. And I wish you a Merry Christmas.
Imagine the life of a shepherd two thousand years ago, tending his flocks at night—a harsh and lonely life framed on the fringes of cultivated land.
Generally of modest means, shepherds either owned a small flock or were hired to work for someone else. Thieves and natural predators like wolves, lions, and hyenas in the wild, presented a real and constant danger to their livelihood.
Picture them, then, dressed in cloaks of homespun wool or sheepskin carrying simple weapons to protect their charges, the flocks they loved: “a goat’s hair sling for hurling stones; a 30-inch wooden club embedded with nails.”
Consider their love, their relentless care of their sheep. During the day, their flocks wandered over unfenced rocky ground, nibbling on grasses. Following on the alert, shepherds carried a water bag and such fares as dates, olives, cheese and bread.
Thatched roof huts at various lookout points protected the worthy caretakers from the desert sun. At night, if the weather was severe, shepherds returned to a cave or a sheepfold.
Sometimes they set up tents for themselves but in warmer months, they often slept beside their flocks in the wild.
One dark night, those shepherds—far removed from the artificial glitter and glow of Herod’s palace—were visited by a holier light. ….
Parents who labor honestly and endlessly in their homes today are not unlike the shepherds of old. We are often seen by the world as shepherds were in their day—as living on the fringes of cultivated lands—living outside the lands of political correctness and moral in-correctness. Some say we have chosen antiquated roles, bound by outdated notions of womanhood. We say we are right where we want to be–forming souls and shaping nations’ futures.
Like shepherds of old, those of us who are striving to be good parents, to vigilantly tend our flocks and fortify our homes, are armed, too—with a simply unyielding faith and steadiness of purpose.
We like shepherds, are constantly on the lookout for those who would disturb the peace and sanctity of our children, those who cleverly but unconvincingly “call evil good and good evil.”
In our own little fields, our yards and homes, our own flock of little ones wander and frolic and grow as we watch, like shepherds of old, prayerfully and exhaustingly over them day and night. And like shepherds, we, too, sometimes even sleep by them.
We, too, wander over rocky ground—shepherding our children through pebbled crossroads and often less than smoothly paved roads—and likewise feel the heat of hard work and the blazing trials of parenthood. We, too, know it’s worth it to remain faithful in our charge. We, too, know severe spiritual weather and some dark and cold nights. We also know the joy of true shepherding, of the intimacy, integrity, and fidelity of providing a haven of safety and a spiritual learning center for our loved ones. We know the joy of keeping our flock together and the pain of straying sheep.
Will angels not, then, also minister to us as we keep faithful watch in our fields?
Will we not also be surrounded by a light and a love and a power as great as that shining for the shepherds of old?
Will we not also be guided to Jesus Christ as we continue to work in our fields of our individual homes?
Is the Savior not also intimately aware of us in our own little dwellings, on our own little streets, tending our own little flocks?
I believe the answer, as the Christmas story illuminates, is a resounding “yes!” Jesus Christ is aware of us.
The story of the shepherds is the story of the sacredness of the work of tending those in our care—it is the story of faithful mothers and faithful families living to care for and protect their flocks.
It is an affirmation that for us—shepherds of new—the Good Shepherd, even Jesus Christ, will illuminate our lives with the glow of His love, His guiding light—as for shepherds of old—until we likewise behold His holy face.