December 27, 2022 (The Second Day toward Epiphany)
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“The shepherds returned to their fields glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen just as they had been revealed to them.” (Luke 2.20)
At the beginning of the life of Jesus on earth we find the same, similar, paradigm of response as at the end of His earthly life. The circle of life was not original to The Lion King. And because of that particular knowledge we can trust in Jesus’ words, “I am going away, but you can believe that I AM coming back again.” The thrust of the “Christmas” promise is that Jesus is coming back as the Christ. So, it only stands to reason that the very shepherds to whom the angels of the Lord appeared would follow a similar pattern. Imagine if the shepherds just “up and left” their flocks in the coldest part of the night which is actually in the early morning hours just before sunrise. No warning. No word. No instruction. They just decided amongst themselves to leave their flocks, their livelihood, their entrusted purpose abandoned and vulnerable. Somehow, I have to believe that good shepherds would not do such a thing. They would not be so self-absorbed as were the kings and leaders of Israel in their past and in their present to leave the flocks without a shepherd. Jesus commented several times during His ministry that the people were like “sheep without a shepherd.” The evidence of their meandering was a critique on the “rulers over them” as well as mostly a discernment of their nature and character as a people without hope and a sense of direction. It is what happens when bad shepherds are “in the lead.” We would probably hear Jesus say similar things about the culture and climate of the world in all the nations we are called to disciple. But, those shepherds to whom the angels declared “Good news of a great joy” were deemed as good shepherds. God saw in them a worthiness of bearing the gospel just as He saw Mary’s worthiness of bearing His only begotten Son. The sheep knew their shepherd and their shepherd’s voice. Good shepherds establish a powerful and heartfelt relationship with their sheep. They have learned to trust in the shepherd and find comfort in their words and actions. It would not surprise me then that those same shepherds spoke to their flocks as much as they decided together to “go and see” in Bethlehem. I have little doubt that they spoke to their flocks and their shepherd dogs “stay for a while, we are going away, but we will return.” And if sheep could talk in human language, they might have said “Going away to where? How can we feel confident in being left behind?” The shepherds would have responded to their questions with something akin to the very words Jesus left His flock of disciples with on that night of “good news,” ‘I AM the way, the truth and the life.” And with that the flocks settled back down by still waters in green pastures comforted by their canine companions who maintained their watch by night.
Now imagine the response of the flock and their watchers when the voices of the shepherds were heard coming from over the horizon. The voices of joy and gladness filling the air and echoing off the hills and distant wadi walls. They would have begun to stir. Their bleats rising to meet their returning friends. Dogs would bark with excitement. Tails wagged with recognition of “coming home again.” It was good news to them. It was good news for them. All was right again with their world. And things may not have changed for the flocks and their canine tenders but everything had changed for the shepherds. They had not only heard good news but had seen the testimony of it with their own eyes and heard it with their own ears. The joy of the moment filled their hearts to overflowing. Even the work they were doing in the fields day after day had new meaning and purpose. Their flocks, after all, were the flocks of David intended for the purpose of being presented as sacrifices for the sins of the people. The day of death was coming to an end. The dawning of new life was before them and upon them. The promised circle of life was being closed in around them. It was as evident to them as their promised and proven care was for their flocks. They didn’t need a fence to encircle them and keep them close to their shepherds. The shepherds vigil was enough to bound their journey and keep them safely together. The shepherds were the sheepgates and sheep pens in which they would stay and through which they would pass day after day. They were the age old practice which then echoed in the Messiah’s words with power and promise “I AM the door of the sheep.” It was their epiphany when those same words echoed back to them thirty years later in the fields where they kept watch. They had seen the beginning. They witnessed the return. They trusted in His declaration “I AM going away but I AM coming back to take you to be with Me where I AM now going. You can trust Me because I AM the way, the truth and the life. There is only one way to enter My Father’s house and that is through Me.”
Mighty ones of God, shepherds of flocks given to you in the circle of family, friends, neighbors, colleagues, strangers and even enemies, heed the word which has been given to us. For just as “unto us a Savior is born who is Christ the Lord,” so are we sent back into the world to draw nearer to the Kingdom of God which is at hand. The more we draw near to God in Jesus’ name, the more we draw away from the world which hates His name. We may dwell and serve in the world but through Christ we are no longer of the world. We are made new creatures and new creations. We have been born of water but now we are born of “spirit and truth.” We are born again to enter not back to our mother’s womb but into our Father’s House. We have a story to tell of the circle of life given to us which has drawn us in to Immanuel, God with us and God within us. We shall never be without Him ever again. We have His Word, His Promise, His Voice. He knows us by name and has given Himself to us for our salvation and to the glory of God our Father. I pray this will be your epiphany as wise people seeking “the way, the truth and the life” which is good news of a great joy. Share it vibrantly today as you go back into the fields and serve with gladness.
Father, open our eyes that we might see. Open our ears that we might hear. Open our lives that we might reveal the only truth that can set us all free from the sin that so easily entangles and snares us to a dark destiny. AMEN.