The Shepherds

Pastor Marcus Birkholz

Luke 2:8-18 (NIV) 8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” 15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” 16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

In 1865, an Englishman named William Dix penned the words to a poem titled, “The Manger Throne.” A few years later the first three stanzas of that poem were set to the music of the English traditional folk song called, “Greensleeves.” Soon that became known as the loved Christmas carol, “What Child is This?” Since that time the question found in the title, has caused singers and hearers to contemplate what really happened that first Christmas eve. How has that child changed the world? How has that child changed my own life? During these weeks of Advent that question will guide our thoughts. In the first verse we hear the words: Whom Angels greet with anthems sweet, While shepherds watch are keeping? Our attention today is drawn to The Shepherds as they contemplated, “What Child is This?”

Before we turn to the Shepherd, I would like to share an event that happened to me here at Salem. I was called to Children’s Hospital in St. Paul. There in an isolate was a little boy, weighing only 22 ounces. He had a little stocking cap on which they removed. Then I dipped my fingers into a sterile water jar and baptized him. So little, so weak, would he survive? What would be the chances of that little one if he did survive? Questions as I looked at that little boy. Years later around the age 7 his mother brought him to the fireside room because he had so many God question he wanted to ask. He now has his doctorate degree and we keep in touch through Facebook. So many unanswered questions about that child so early in life. So with all children, except the Child of Bethlehem.

That first Christmas night sure changed the lives of the shepherds on the hillside of Bethlehem. Where would their thoughts run? What questions would arise in their minds? When they got to the manger and saw the little one they would have to reflect on what the angels had told them. Is that what the long promised, Christ, Messiah was to look like? How can that little one be “the Lord?” How will that little boy ever be our Savior? Wouldn’t it had been amazing if they had looked at the baby Jesus and said, “he looks more like a shepherd, born here in a stable, rather that a Messiah Savior, Lord.” Even if they had thought of that, they would have been partly right. He would become a Shepherd, even more The Good Shepherd. So we have a contrast with the shepherds of Bethlehem and The Good Shepherd in the manger.

To appreciate the story of the Shepherds, we might have a little struggle to identify with them. How many of you have ever been a shepherd and raised sheep? Because of that we wouldn’t truly understand the responsibilities, demands and expectations of such a position. As we turn to the Bible we gain insight to the challenges of the shepherds in Jesus’ day. Now you may have concluded that shepherds were not high on the society’s list. In fact, they might have wondered, why of all people would we be invited to the birth of the Savior? The Romans, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the high priest wouldn’t have invited them to dinner. Although the priest might have had business dealing to get the sacrificial animals for the temple. Early in the Bible their position was not looked down upon. Remember the first children born, Cain and Abel, Abel was a shepherd. Later we read of Abraham how he was wealthy and had many flocks which would require many underling shepherds. The Bible records Job, the man of God, had 14,000 sheep. From the shepherds of Bethlehem, God would choose a shepherd boy, to become King David.

Now David would us insight to the real challenges of a shepherd. He once told King Saul, 1 Samuel 17:34–35 (NIV84) — 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant has been keeping his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and carried off a sheep from the flock, 35 I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. I cannot picture myself going after a bear or a lion with just a club. I don’t know about you. When it would turn around a come after, I don’t think I would have thought of grabbing it by its hair and fighting it. Just saying.

With that picture in mind, go back to the manger with the shepherds and ask the question, what child is this? With those little hands, he would take on so much more than a bear or lion, but rather the old evil foe, roaring lion, looking whom it may devour. Bare handed, destroyed the works of the devil and would rescue the sheep. John 10:14 “I am the good shepherd; and I lay down my life for the sheep. People of Jesus’ day would have understood his words very clearly.

Another responsibility was not just protection, compassion and care daily of the sheep. Shepherd boy David would draw on his experience, Psalm 23:2 (NIV84) — 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters. What child is this? Our Savior’s compassion and care for us is not just a couple days out of the year, Christmas and Easter. Rather daily he is involved. And as the angels announced his birth, he sends those angels to watch over and care for us. What child is this? He is the one in charge of all the angels, the multitude of the heavenly host, to care for us day by day.

Jesus would describe his concern for each of us if we would wander from his flock. He never stops searching for the lost ones….Luke 15:4 (NIV84) — 4 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it?“

Each one of us needs to pause at the manger and reflect on the impact of the child of Bethlehem in our own personal lives. It would be difficult to look at those tiny little hands and the tiny little feet and picture someone pounding the nails through them. Would 33 years later make any difference, because the hands are bigger? Then to realize that those holes in the hands and feet were because of our sins and for our sins. What child is this? The Good Shepherd who gave his life for each of us. We may know the facts about shepherds and about the Good Shepherd, but there comes a time when we need to say those words of faith, “The Lord is MY Shepherd.”

The story is not over. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. Being at the manger the shepherds could not keep it a secret. They had an awesome story to tell. Jesus expects the same from all of us: John 21:15–17 (NIV84) — 15 Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.” Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.” “Feed my sheep.”

After I retired I would have an opportunity that reminded, one never really retires from ministry. One young man who went to Salem school and was confirmed here, sent me a message over Facebook. He wondered if I still did baptisms ? He explained he knew a young mother who had an infant and no church. Would I meet with her and talk about baptism? Of course, I was willing. He brought her and the baby to our house one night. I still remember asking her a couple question and her answers. I asked her if she had heard of Jesus. Yes, she had. I wondered if she knew who his parents were? She didn’t know the names Mary and Joseph. (just a note, she went to high school in the metro.) Then I asked if she knew Jesus died on a cross. Yes, she did. Then I asked if she knew he rose from the dead. She had never heard of that. Then I asked her why she wanted her baby baptized? She said, because he told me to. So, for over 5 months she came for class at our dining room table, while Cheri watched the baby. Then came the time to review one more time the meaning of baptism. That Monday night the door bell rang, she stood there with her baby and a young man. She looked at me and said, he needs the class too. We baptized the baby and then started classes with the young man. My challenge, I had to do it in Spanish. End result, since they lived near Christ Lutheran Church NSP, we ended up having 5 baptisms, her extended family had children too, two adult confirmations and a wedding. All because one student spoke up.

What Child is This? The Good Shepherd who laid down his life, who protects and provides for his sheep who have an amazing story to share. What Child is This? What a Child this is! Amen.