Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Birth of a Lamb

So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
Luke 2:16-18

The Shepherd of our souls selected a group of shepherds to receive Jesus’ spectacular birth announcement.

The night was probably an ordinary one for them. They might have gathered about in the field, swapping stories they’d heard before but loved to tell again and again. Perhaps one was about the birth of a lamb.

Little did they know that not too far away, a Lamb had just been born.

A rustling…a sound. Experience would have brought them instantly to their feet, weapons drawn, ready to fend off the intruder and protect the lambs in their care.

But it wasn’t an animal. No lion or bear lumbered toward them. In fact, what was it? The shepherds trembled in a blaze of glorious light as the angel of the Lord moved closer.

Do not be afraid.
I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.
Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you;
he is Christ the Lord.
This will be a sign to you:
You will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.

What went through their minds as they stood…or perhaps crouched, still trembling…before the angel? Did they wonder if they were collectively hallucinating? Was this a practical joke from a fellow team of shepherds?

Before they could even shake their heads or swallow the lumps that seemed lodged in their throats, “a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’”

The angel choir evaporated into the heavens in just moments, and the shepherds were left to stare at one another in dazed wonder.

Why them? Why a bunch of confirmed bachelors in desperate need of bathing and newer clothes? People usually went to great lengths to keep their babies away from the smelly, manner-challenged lot of animal watchers. Had any of them even been near a newborn before? Had any of them seen the wonder of an infant chest rising and falling with first breaths? Aside from their wooly charges, had they seen such a tiny life?

They were considered by some, surely, to be the least of the community. And yet that is exactly who this Baby had come to serve. Why should He wait until His ministry began to meet those whose lives He came to save? Why should their names not be the first in the list of visitors inscribed in His baby book? He had come, after all, to make a way for their names to be inscribed in another Book…the Lamb’s Book of Life.

Why not shepherds? In fact, who but them?

The forgotten and lowly were the sought and chosen ones. Under the dark cover of night, when the rest of the community lay tucked beneath blankets on their floor pallets, God the Father lit up the night sky for the faithful few still on duty.

And not only did He announce the birth of His Son, but He invited them to go and find Jesus. He sent them on a scavenger hunt of the city – leading them to the type of place they knew best – a barn. He told these shepherds the Baby had come for them. He would be in a manger. Shepherds knew about mangers.

Scripture indicates they wasted very little time. As the last of the angels ascended from where they came, the shepherds didn’t even hesitate, but set out for the tiny town. Set out in search of a Savior.

We don’t know how long it took them to find the right barn. Perhaps by the time they trekked into Bethlehem and through the streets, morning had come. Maybe it was still late at night, but being shepherds, they didn’t stop to think about the protocol of waiting until daybreak to knock on the door. After all…they were up. Why shouldn’t a new family be awake also?

Nothing is recorded about their meeting. They may have burst into the stable with heavy footsteps and bumbling gestures, startling the poor family inside. Maybe they peeked in a window and scrambled over each other for the first glimpse. They might have asked to see the new Baby – maybe even to hold Him.

Did Mary and Joseph rush to protect the Infant as the shepherds came tumbling into the barn, all talking at once, explaining how they knew about this birth? Did they listen, slightly amused, as the men argued with one another about various details, each insisting that it really happened this way?

Mary might have swallowed hard as she passed the brand new Child into the unsure arms of the first shepherd. Perhaps it was his first time to hold a baby. And in that moment, he held the Baby of all babies. They surely missed the new mother putting a trembling hand over her mouth as the shepherds carefully passed her Son from one set of arms to the next – each uncertain – but each so gentle.

And the hands of the people cradled the Savior. The One Who would later cradle their sins on His back as He indeed saved them.

The shepherds had hurried to meet Him – leaving behind responsibility and expectation. And after they did meet Him, they remembered the angel had given them an assignment. This Baby was for all people.

They did not keep their midnight episode a secret. Scripture says they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

The original praise team.

A group of uncouth, dirty shepherds told anyone and everyone about a night when angels visited them, and they saw a new Baby asleep in a barn. And not just any Baby. A Savior.

Maybe they hadn’t spent time learning much in the Jewish temple. Perhaps they didn’t know the ancient prophecies. In fact, this may have been entirely new information for them. But they didn’t care about what they knew and what they didn’t know. They only cared about what they saw.

Meeting that Baby changed them forever.
They knew they were seen by a Father above.
They knew they were chosen to receive the news.
They knew they had beheld – and perhaps even held – their Savior.
And they could not keep it quiet.
Jesus had arrived.

From His Advent: Still His Greatest Gift

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