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Why Shepherds? 羊飼い?

The 2nd week in Advent takes us into the second gospel – the gospel of Mark to see
what it says about the birth of Christ….

Nothing. Mark says nothing about the birth of Christ. So let’s move on to the book of Luke which has plenty to say about the birth of Christ.

But quickly, why doesn’t Mark write anything about the birth of Christ? Perhaps his non-telling of the birth tells us something about the gospel of Mark? It does.
Mark’s gospel is primarily concerned with the ministry of Jesus, based largely on the preaching of Peter, not the birth. As such, it starts with the ministry of John the Baptist and goes from there.

Luke, on the other hand, “carefully investigated everything from the beginning” and so wrote “an orderly account” for us to “know the certainty of the things you have been taught”. (Luke 1:3,4)

Luke is a brilliant historian, as this gospel and the book of Acts shows. Regarding the birth of Christ, Luke starts with the prophetic foretelling of the birth of John the Baptist: an angel visits the priest Zechariah and brings him the good news of his wife’s impending pregnancy.

Then the angel Gabriel visits Mary and tells her about the child that she is soon to bear. These are to be the extraordinary births of extraordinary men and so their foretelling is appropriately supernatural.

Then Mary visits Elizabeth (they are related) and John the Baptist, still in Elizabeth’s womb, leaps for joy on hearing Mary’s voice. Songs of praise follow.

Then John the Baptist is born and there are more songs of praise.

Then Jesus was born. It is Luke who provides most of the details regarding this birth, including the ‘no vacancies’ problem at the inn, the birth ‘outside’ (probably in a stable or a cave), the placing of the baby Jesus in a manger and the shepherds and the angels.

This morning, I’d like to focus on the shepherds and the angels. Here’s the text:
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “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.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
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.”
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. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Luke 2:8-20

Who would like to meet an angel?
Be careful what you wish for! The shepherds were “terrified”ひどく恐れた by what they saw. Mary was “greatly troubled”ひどくとまどって’ when she met the angel, Zechariah the priest was “gripped with fear”恐怖に襲われ, Ezekiel was “overwhelmed”ぼう然として for seven days…I could go on.
On one hand, we should be very content with the Holy Spirit simply living in our hearts. On the other hand, we should probably also be more terrified and overwhelmed at the thought of God Himself residing in us. Too often we lose the holy awe of the Holy Spirit’s presence in us.

One of the things that really amazes me is how succinct (briefly and clearly expressed) the Bible is. I didn’t really appreciate this until recently when I wrote my “Driven” book and I tried to put words into Jesus’ mouth, or to write in a Biblical style. I found it very difficult to not be wordy, to not try to explain or justify the words I was writing, to almost make it ‘legally sound’. I challenge you to try this for yourself. Try to write out your own account of the story of Jesus’ birth and see if you can include everything the Bible includes but not write it any longer.

In Luke’s account, the first thing the angels say after calming the shepherds down, is this:
I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. then 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
In one short sentence they tell us the news that this baby that has been born,
is the Savior – he will save all people from their sin;
he is the Messiah – the long-promised anointed one of God;
メシヤ- 長年約束され続けた神に油そそがれた方
and Lord – not merely ‘Lord’ as in ‘master’ but the title divine ‘Lord’ which was originally reserved for God Himself, and now applied to the Messiah.
In one short sentence they tell us that this child is God, in the flesh, who will save all mankind. We could (and should) meditate just on this verse all day!

But there’s something that bothers me about the shepherds: who were these guys? Why should angels appear to them? Why wouldn’t the angels appear to the people who mattered? The politicians and kings with power who could really do something with this news? Why a bunch of shepherds? (I wondered this last week too about the magi but there were ‘gentile’ reasons for this.) But shepherds? Why? Very unimpressive!

Then I wondered, who is it that God appears to? What sort of people does God appear to?
Moses – an elite, a prince エリート、王子
Joshua – a military general 軍の大将
Samuel – a prophet 預言者
David – a shepherd 羊飼い
Solomon – a king 王
Elijah – a prophet 預言者
Ezekiel – a prophet 預言者
Amos – a shepherd 羊飼い
Peter – a fisherman 漁師
Paul – a rabbi 宗教指導者
and shepherds watching their sheep in a field. 野原で羊を番している羊飼い

There is no pattern. There is no favouritism or professional requirements. God appears to people regardless of their title or position. God reveals Himself and entrusts his Word and testimony to the most mixed bunch of people. Some were kings (nobility), others were farmers (commoners). Some were prophets and priests (highly educated), others were tradesman (‘simple’ people). Some were renowned men. Others were obscure women. It didn’t matter. God does not only reveal Himself to ‘special’ people. He appears to ordinary people. He appeared to the women at the tomb of Christ and honoured them with the first sighting and testimony of the risen Jesus. He appeared to a bunch of shepherds out in a field.

Sometimes God used the elite to carry His Word, as with Moses and Paul. But sometimes – often – the elite were miserable failures as we see with a whole line of unfaithful Israeli kings, and as we see right here in the nativity story with John the Baptist’s father (a good man), the priest Zechariah, to whom the angel of God appeared but he would not believe. He was punished for his unbelief. So the elite were no more reliable or of use to God than the common person.

God appeared to the shepherds in the field to demonstrate that ordinary people have a place in His divine program. This includes us. Here we are. A bunch of educators (for the most part). We’re not kings or apostles or high priests or politicians. Yet God has chosen to place His Word in us, to pour His Holy Spirit into our lives, to use us to testify as His witnesses. What an honour!

This Christmas we ordinary people have the duty, the honour and the joy of telling everyone about the Christ-child who was born Lord, and who came to save all people from their sin. Let’s be faithful in sharing this news.