During Advent His Holiness set up a nativity scene under the Altar. First, he put the manger in the center. Then each week he would add pieces to the Nativity scene. Animals one week, (including a live cat we have who likes to roam around the nativity set and swat the cow once in awhile), the Shepherds another week, Mary and Joseph the next week….well you get the picture.
Eventually all the pieces will be in place. The Wise men are set up by the Christmas tree in another room until Epiphany, then they will be moved to the Nativity set. On Christmas day the baby Jesus will be put in the manger.
Every morning, before Mass, His Holiness and I spend an hour before the blessed sacrament. On one particular day, my eyes wondered down to the shepherds below the Alter. I got to meditating on some things about them and thought I would share some of my thoughts with you.
Shepherding is one of the oldest professions in the world. Adam was charged to have dominion over the animal kingdom (Genesis 1:26), and Abel is called a “keeper of the sheep” (Genesis 4:2). Throughout biblical history, significant men were experienced shepherds—Jacob and his sons, Moses, and David.
Shepherding is also a prominent theme in Scripture. Remember Psalm 22? “The Lord is my Shepherd . . .” God as shepherd is all over the Old Testament, and Jesus is described as a shepherd in the New Testament. Believers are comforted by Jesus’ words in John 10, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd giveth his life for his sheep. … I know my own and my own know me . . . I lay down my life for my sheep. ”
The greatest of the early Old Testament Fathers chose this profession, a livelihood scorned by surrounding cultures. Years after Joseph’s exile to Egypt and rise to representative for the King of Egypt, when his brothers came to him in exile, Joseph presented them to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. The question that most interested the king was: “What is your occupation?” “We thy servants are shepherds, ” they replied to Pharaoh, “both we, and our fathers.” (Genesis 47:3). Shepherding was not a respected occupation in Egypt, and Pharaoh relegated Joseph’s family to the far-off land of Gosh. But among the Jews, it was considered an honorable profession.
Out of the whole of Jerusalem society, God picked a band of shepherds to hear the news of Jesus’ birth first.
Now as I meditated on this I had to ask myself, why did God have the angels proclaim the great news of the Messiah’s birth to the shepherds first? Why did he chose to entrust this magnificent news to a group of shepherds with no social standing out side of there Jewish community and no real voice to proclaim Jesus birth? I would think that there were those who could have spread the news quicker, faster and better.
Some possibilities of why He made the shepherds His choice.
God revealed Jesus’ birth to the shepherds to shame the religious leaders.
God, revealing such news to the shepherds is consistent with St. Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians.
“But the foolish things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the wise; and the weak things of the world hath God chosen, that he may confound the strong. And the base things of the world, and the things that are contemptible, hath God chosen, and things that are not, that he might bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his sight.” (1 Corinthians 1:27-28)
You might say, but the religious leaders didn’t know they were being put to shame! That’s right, and the wise, strong, and favored in the world don’t know it either. They are not put to shame in their own eyes, but in God’s eyes.
God revealed Jesus’ birth to the shepherds to bring them joy.
What brought the shepherds joy was not the birth of a baby per se, but the birth of the Messiah or Saviour in particular. The angel said this news is “good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people: ” (Luke 2:10), but then narrowed it by saying, “ For, this day, is born to you a Saviour, . . .”(Luke 2:11). This announcement was specifically for them. Even though only the shepherds received this announcement that night, God directed Luke to record the event so every believer can share in the joy of their Saviour's birth.
Does it bring you joy to know the Son of God became flesh for you? Do you realize you did not deserve Him in your life? Or that you did not deserved to be one of those who He was revealed himself to?
God sent His Son to be the Savior of the world and yet many people were ignorant of His birth. The same is true today. If you’re a recipient of His grace in your life, it’s for your joy. You did not deserve it, but God revealed Himself to you for your joy.
God revealed Jesus’ birth to the shepherds for the sake of Mary and Joseph.
Recall that both Mary and Joseph received the news via the angelic messenger Gabriel. Mary was more then likely around the age of 15 and Joseph was either a young man as well, (25? 30?) or an older man. Scholars are not sure, and angelic appearances were rare—to say the least. Joseph could have divorced Mary. Mary could have rejected her divine appointment. They both could have passed the visions off as wild dreams. But they both accepted Gabriel s message to them and obeyed the Lord.When the shepherds described their experience, Mary “kept all these words, pondering them in her heart.” (Luke 2:19). The shepherds’ testimony confirmed to Mary and Joseph what they had experienced themselves.
Think about the grace of God in this. Have you made a significant decision—a large purchase, had a job opportunity, or questioned which school to attend—and afterward experienced an affirming sign? If we are following God’s will, we don’t need those signs of affirmation; but we find comfort in those times that God does give them.
God revealed Jesus’ birth to the shepherds for His own sake.
What did God accomplish by making this announcement? By sharing the joy of His Son’s birth with a few shepherds and confirming to Mary and Joseph what they already knew, God received glory and praise from everyone involved. Those who heard the testimony "marveled at it" (Luke 2:18) and “glorifying and praising God, for all the things they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. ”(Luke 2:20).
Think of it this way: it brought God joy to give joy to the shepherds.
When God acts, while it is for your joy and your benefit, ultimately it is for Himself. The Author of the book of Hebrews says concerning Christ, “who having joy set before him, endured the cross,”(Hebrews 12:2). Paul explains in Ephesians that God’s work in salvation is “to the praise of his glorious grace” and “to the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:6,12, 14).
Now some will picture in their mind only a small part of what the phrase “giving glory and praise” means. Its not just listening to a CD or a mp3 download of praise music. Its not just a time of people getting together to “Worship, praise, and glorify God with singing”, although that is a small part of it. But God is most glorified and praised by accepting his will in our lives and doing his will from a heart of Thanksgiving and Trust.
How much glory and praise are you giving to God this Christmas season? How much glory and praise will God get from you the rest of the Year? Hopefully all Praise and Glory will be given to Him during the whole year and every day of your life.
So let’s be like the Shepherds.
They heard the message while fulfilling there responsibility as shepherds. They did not run around looking for messages from God. They were doing God’s will for them where they were at.
They not only believed the message that the Christ came to earth, but with “haste” went looking for him.
They told others about the good news.
“And all that heard, wondered; and at those things that were told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2:18)
They went back to fulfilling the obligations as shepherds. Only this time they did it with praise and glorying on there tongues and in there hearts.
May the examples of the shepherds become apart of our lives as well!