While Shepherds watched their flocks by night....

They sit, a canopy of black stretching above them sprinkled with the stars that fill the universe. The moon, a single glowing orb in the sky, highlights the earth silver, defying the darkness. The sheep rest while the shepherds  are alert to the sounds of the night. They hear the rustling of the breeze, the gentle sounds of nature's nocturne. One wraps his dirty cloak closer around his chest, trying to keep out the chill. The odor of a garment much worn vapors into the night air. Another runs his calloused hand up the knotted grain of his rod. Their hearts are awake, ready, yet with no idea what sky rending event is about to happen. Terrifyingly, the black night turns bright. No warning, no way to expect this or interpret what is happening. The shepherds hearts pump adrenaline through their veins, hands grasping rods yet feeling defenseless. An atmosphere of glory swirls around them, they feel it on their skin, they feel it under their skin. Trembling, they behold an angel before them, powerful, towering, beautiful, overwhelming. Terror grips them as he addresses them, saying,  “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Caught in this moment, completely overwhelmed, the shepherds hear the words. Without time to allow all this to permeate the mind the night canopy fills with a great number of heavenly beings praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
There is a lingering as the angels rest in the holiness of this moment and then they take flight, back to their heavenly abode, leaving the shepherds gazing up into the canvas of the night. They hear the sounds of the earth knowing they were just shown heaven and were given an invitation to visit the One long awaited.
Their hearts, more awake, more alive than they had ever been before, beat hard in their chest. Hurriedly they grab their staffs, wrap their cloaks around their chests and start running across the land to Bethlehem. As they approach the town of David, their ears, sharpened to even the quietest sounds, hear the faint cry of a newborn baby - the sounds of the Messiah piercing this night. Breathless, they keep running, listening, until they find a young couple, huddled over a feeding trough, soothing a tiny boy. The Messiah, the one they'd been waiting for was finally here.

Unnamed men encountering the realm of heaven. It's breathtaking. Why them? Why not a prominent, known leader? What an invitation! This is a stunning way to summon their presence to the King they have been waiting for. Ordinary men with no reputation are called out by the Maker of Heaven and Earth. There are probably many reasons why God reveals heaven to the shepherds in this way but here are couple I have been thinking about lately:
1) God relates His leadership to that of a shepherd many times, like the passage in Isaiah:
He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. Isaiah 40:11
He calls himself the "Shepherd of Israel" - (psalm 80:11, Jer. 31:10)
There is a tremendous amount of identification seen in the bible between God and shepherds. It's not just the role of a shepherd that God relates to, it's the heart of the shepherd. God wants to tell us about himself by using that metaphor. He is gentle, humble, protective of his people. God's humility is hard to comprehend. He is the One who made the universe and he serves us like a shepherd caring for his sheep. Phenomenal. The shepherds at the manger form a picture of one of the roles that Jesus walks in as He leads His people. 
2) The shepherds had no riches to bring to Jesus but He wanted them with Him. The invitation could not have been made clearer. Jesus, leaving the endless glory of heaven to be born as a vulnerable infant into broken humanity, wanted shepherds with Him. My thought is that they were close friends of Jesus before the incarnation. I believe they lived close to Him, they talked to Him - just like you and I pray and want to know Jesus as a brother. I think Jesus liked them - He enjoyed them tremendously. He knew them fully, they knew Him in part, and now they were about to see Him in the form of a tiny baby. He really is a humble God. He likes us! He doesn't look at us in terms of what we can bring to Him, he just wants to spend some time with us. I am amazed that the God of the universe, the One that needs nothing, can still long to be with us and want us to know His love for us so that we might love Him back (1 John 4:19). What were the Shepherds thinking when they saw Him? Was there a knowing in their hearts that he really was the One they had been talking to all these years? 

I think about Christ's birth and how we celebrate it. I know that generous giving reflects the heart of God, especially when it's for those in need, but after reflecting on this piece of history for a while I think that what he is really looking for is our hearts. He wants us to be with Him. He prays for that - His heart is burning with that desire:
"Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world" John 17:24
It was no different with the Shepherds and it's no different now. He wants us, all of us, to be with Him and to know Him fully, because he really is glorious, humble, ready to serve, giving everything of Himself for love. He counts us worthy of His affections when we count ourselves unworthy. He really is beautiful. 

May we know him closer than a brother so that we are prepared for Him when he comes again. I want to be among those who say "yes, here you are, my friend, the One that I love!" I want to hurry to him like the shepherds did, I want to have humility of heart so that he can say "she is like me!" I want Him to want to be with me. I want Him to invite me to his wedding banquet (Rev 19:7). It is not the proud, successful and beautiful that he looks for, it's the humble, the overlooked, the ones who have received His love and mercy. May I be one of those. 


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