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For Friday, Dec. 14, 2012

An Event for Everyone

It is really difficult to explain shepherds to young children. You can talk about taking care of pets or even try to compare a shepherd to a zookeeper, but for many children, shepherding is not a concept they can understand. Living outside with the animals with no shelter or comforts of home is not a familiar concept. Children can, however, understand how someone loves them and takes care of them, and the Bible is full of beautiful images of shepherds watching over their flocks.

Shepherds in biblical times made sure that their sheep had good pastures in which to graze and adequate water to drink. Sheep have a natural tendency to wander off, so shepherds taught the herd to stay together, went looking for those that went astray and protected the sheep from enemies. No wonder the image of a shepherd is used so often to describe God’s love for us.

Abraham, Moses and David were all shepherds and were all revered by the people of Israel, but by the time that Jesus was born, shepherds were looked down upon and even despised. Many shepherds were uneducated and unskilled, and were viewed as dishonest and unclean. So it is amazing that the news of the Savior’s birth was presented first to them.

These guys were settling down for the night in the fields, simply doing their jobs, when an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them. God wanted the shepherds to know that the good news was for them. The Bible does not tell us that a proclamation was sent to all the kings of all the great empires. It does not say that suddenly all the priests and leaders of the faith were made aware that the Messiah had come. It was the shepherds — the regular guys doing their regular jobs — who heard the news first.

An angel appears in many of our favorite Christmas stories, and the reaction was always similar. Zechariah was frightened. Mary was a teenage girl who had no idea what kind of greeting this angel brought to her. Joseph, who was planning to quietly divorce Mary, was told in a dream not to be afraid of taking Mary as his wife. The shepherds were terrified. But the angels immediately sought to reassure each one. Each time the response was, “Do not be afraid.”

The Christmas story is one for all who have fears. It is for unwed pregnant teenagers. It is for people who fear they are too old and that life has passed them by. It is for people who fear they will not make it through this economic time or this stage with their children, and it is for those who have fears about their jobs or their relationships. It is for all who are anxious and uncertain. The word of God says time and time again to us, “Do not be afraid.”

These reassurances in Scripture do not come to courageous people who are about to do incredible things for God. Those words come to people who are utterly terrified because God is about include them in his story — the story of redemption. God says, “Do not be afraid. I have chosen you.”

As we come into the final week before we celebrate the birth of Jesus, remember the words proclaimed to the terrified shepherds: “I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” Give thanks that the Savior’s birth is an event for everyone. Give thanks that God is calling us to be a part of his story. Give thanks for the assurance that God is with us; we do not have to be afraid.

Great and gracious God, we see ourselves as ordinary people, but you see us as beloved children whom you have called to serve. Lord, we want to be part of your story. We want to feel the excitement of the shepherds who were eager to find Jesus. Sometimes we are afraid. Sometimes it is easier to stay where we are. Lord, guide us to seek the great things you have planned for us that we cannot envision. Give us the courage to follow. Amen.