'While shepherds watched their flocks by night...' - a familiar line from an even more familiar carol - puts me in mind of my visits to the Shepherds' Fields just outside Bethlehem. There the tat and tinsel of typical Christmas scenes faded as we stepped out of the coach to gaze across the barren hillside towards the outline of the little town of Bethlehem. There was just a cave nearby and a few straggly sheep to mark the scene but it was possible there to imagine that first Christmas night.
As a shepherd myself - for that is what the word 'Pastor' means - I am glad that God chose to send the angels to a group of middle-Eastern shepherds then. Like pastors today, shepherds in Israel did not hold a high place in society. They were not really respected or trusted in the wider community and practiced their profession largely away from the crowd. Yet they performed a vital role and especially so in the Christmas story. For it is likely that these shepherds were looking after the sacrificial flocks for the Temple in Jerusalem. They were preparing lambs for the slaughter. And that is the real reason why God's Son was coming into the world, as over the manger hung the shadow of a cross. "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord".
|I took this photo of a shepherd in Israel in Dec 2011|