“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field keeping watch over their flock by night.”
It is commonly accepted that shepherds were at, or very near, the bottom end of the social scale – lower caste, if you will. They were hardly likely to be on anybody’s ‘invite list.’ Neither their job nor their charges were particularly glorious. Sheep are smelly, prone to wander, scare easily, and get themselves into a pickle (or a bush).
When it came to the announcement of the birth of the saviour it would have taken a brave prophet indeed to suggest the shepherd’s inclusion, much less the appearance of the heavenly host to them. Royal worshippers from afar yes, local shepherds – hardly. And, yet …
I recall attending revivalist meetings (extraordinary in themselves) at which some speakers berated Pastors in front of their flocks. This always struck me as self-defeating, somewhat ironic, considering it is the Pastors who care for the people who attend these meetings – church members.
I would counsel less haste at condemning the people who are responsible for those that come, and who financially support the meetings, by virtue of their people being there.
Perhaps shepherds are still the least likely to be noticed or honoured?
Perhaps they lack the sophistication of the academic, the gifting of the gifted, or the resources of the connected? And, yet …
In the 1970’s Teachers were all the rage. In the 1980s Prophets entered the domain of church life, and since then Leaders have been front and centre. Undoubtedly we have all benefitted from these ministry gifts. And yet, behind the scenes we find the Pastors – those who more naturally live for, bleed for, and die for, “the sheep of his pasture.”
Reflections on the Text
“And in the same region.” Shepherds live in the same region, the same locale, as their sheep, and often for most of their lives. They don’t tend to travel very far. They can’t. Sheep aren’t self-sustaining, self-regulating creatures.
The presence of a shepherd matters in regards the health, safety and longevity of the sheep. Absent shepherds are too much of a temptation for wolves: the unscrupulous, the avaricious, those that consume. Strength and safety are found in proximity.
“there were shepherds.” Pastors, you and I. That is what we are, and that is what we do.
“out in the field.” This is where the sheep are, in the fields. They don’t reside in palaces. Most people live in their fields; fields of employment and endeavour. Where the sheep are, so also the shepherd.
Life may be less spectacular and more pedestrian in the fields, but this is more indicative of daily life for most than that portrayed in movies, via social media, or on television (Christian and otherwise).
A shepherd is outside, around the sheep, mixing, living with them, as well as feeding and caring for them. It’s messy.
People are still like sheep in that they go astray, and need a shepherd. They wander, get lost and are prone to infections.
“keeping watch over.” In the case of a shepherd this requires constant physical vigilance, for reasons already enumerated.
To a Pastor this watchfulness is primarily in and by prayer. We are mindful of their condition, their productivity (fruitfulness), and the necessity of their proximity to other sheep.
The work is sobering, at times exhausting, never ending, frustrating, rewarding, and fulfilling. Shepherds watch for wolves, snakes, bugs, and ravines.
The shepherd oversees – they see over the sheep. They see what is coming, they see implication and outcome. They oversee. Sheep don’t and can’t. They are too busy, head down, eating.
“their flock.” It is their flock – not another’s, neither is another’s flock theirs. The sheep were known to the shepherd, and the shepherd to the sheep. (John 10.)
It is a charge, a responsibility – both calling and privilege.
A shepherd would guide his flock to fresh pasture and water, by means of directing and by means of correcting, using their voice, and where necessary their staff.
A Pastor is to disciple and teach, directing the people towards living water, and fresh nourishment in God’s word. And, unpopular-ly a Pastor may need to correct with the staff of their authority, on behalf of the great shepherd of the sheep’s souls, and for the wellbeing of the flock.
“by night.” When no one is looking, when you can’t be seen. When times are dark, and when it appears thankless.
And Yet …
It wasn’t to Kings and Priests that God revealed his purpose and power, nor was it to philosophers and politicians, nor the rich and powerful. Luke 3:1-2 lists the powerbrokers of Judea – quite the line up – yet it was to John in the wilderness that the word of the Lord came to.
And it was to the shepherds that God displayed his heavenly glory. In the appearance of the angel, and the heavenly host, the shepherds were made privy to one of the most important junctures in history: the birth of a child in humble circumstances, in a little village on the outskirts of a great empire.
What glory, what wonder, what unexpected recipients. Who’d have thought it - of all people, shepherds?
This is God’s tribute to the Shepherd.
And this is mine to you - the faithful, the unseen. May God reveal to you a heavenly vision of His Son, of angelic powers, befitting of shepherds - who still watch their flocks by night.