Pastor's Blog

Shepherds' Joy

Shepherds smelled, well, like sheep. Not the fluffy sheep smell associated with Woolite Original Scent after a gentle clothes line airing out on a spring day.

Nope. The shepherds’ ’sheep smell’ was ripe. Detectable in an open field from 10 feet. There was no bathing. Dental hygiene was a foreign concept. One set of clothes, years old. Layers of sweat and dust, reactivated every day. Shepherds regularly spent weeks with their sheep, moving them from place to place, sometimes walking miles in a day, sleeping among them during the night. They developed a close bond with their flock which was returned by an almost instinctive trust.

They were often excluded from community. They were thought untrustworthy, even to the point of not being allowed to give legal testimony. How could such men be trusted? They chose to live with sheep rather than live with people. Few had families.  Unattached. Unstable. And they smelled bad!

The lowest of the low received the shock of Godly attention. Not just attention: extravagance! One angelic visitation is one more visitation than billions and billions of people will ever receive. That was stunning enough! To have the heavens filled with “a multitude of the heavenly hosts” is undiluted extravagance! Initially, their reaction was one of “great fear.”

Think, prior to this instant, of the small events which may have passed for ‘joy’ in the life of the lowly shepherd. Fighting off a wolf. A patch of fresh grass. A trickle of water. A lamb born without incident and a ewe capable to suckle. The shepherd’s life was defined at the boundaries by the smallest joys.

But not on that night. They were a bewildered audience to a heavenly performance. Recipients of staggering, salvific tidings, for themselves and “for all people.” And … a baby in a manger? A manger?

On that night great fear was vacated by joyful praise! They were joyful to find the baby in the manger! They bore “good news of great joy”! Joyful to, for once in their life, be on the inside of God’s Work in the world! The angels came to them! They were smelly shepherds; always the overlooked ones. But not on that night.

They were first in line.


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Advent in Luke: Mary's Love

Gabriel appears to Zechariah, announcing  the birth of John the Baptist. He is sent to Mary announcing the birth of Jesus. An “angel of the Lord” —likely Gabriel—(2.9) appears to the shepherds in the field, announcing the birth of Jesus.

There is reason to think the angels didn’t know about God’s purpose to save through the cross. For the angels, salvation is something “into which angels long to look.” (1 Pt. 1.12) 

Gabriel told Mary her son would be “called the Son of the Most High”; God would “give to Him the throne of His father David”; He “would reign over the house of Jacob forever”; His kingdom would have “no end.” (Lk.1.31-33). Not a word about the cross.

When Jesus is presented at the Temple, old Simeon tells Mary her Son would be ultimately consequential, adding, “and a sword shall pierce through your own soul also.” (Lk. 2.35) Still, nothing specific about the cross.

After Jesus began His public ministry Mary and His siblings felt a need to pull Jesus back. (Mk. 3.21-35). Jesus chooses: family is more than blood. Family is shared passion for God.

Imagine you are Mary. You remember the powerful promises of Gabriel! You watched your miracle son lay down his carpenter’s tools to … preach. You pled with Him to rejoin you, presumably for His safety. He didn’t. Now you stand a yard from Him as He bleeds out and suffocates on the cross. How did it come to this?

You loved Him when you didn’t understand Him. You remember. The Shepherds. The boy in the Temple. You remember His public rejection of you. You remember it all.  Yet Gabriel’s promises will achieve a different meaning, and soon.

You are Mary. Yet your mother’s love will deepen. Soon your love for Jesus will be love for your Savior. You will be counted among His followers (Acts 1.14). For you, alone, Jesus your Savior is also Jesus your Son. You remember. You remember it all.


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