This is a fictitious account of what I imagine it could have been like to be one of the shepherds who were present at the birth of Christ.
This last year I found out that Jesus was crucified. He had come to Jerusalem for our annual passover feast and it sounded like the people finally had enough of him. They killed him. They tell me that it didn’t stick though. I guess three days after they killed him he rose from the dead. That’s what his followers were saying anyway. I don’t know. Maybe. That kind of thing doesn’t really happen. But I do know that Jesus was most certainly something special. He truly was the son of God. He truly was divine. My first encounter with Jesus was the night he was born. What a glorious night that was. A night that changed my life forever.
My name is Oran, but most of my friends call me Bear, that is my shepherd name. Yes, I am a shepherd. Have been for all of my adult life. You know, when I was a kid I never imagined I would be a shepherd. It is not a job that most kids grow up dreaming they could spend their whole lives doing. I grew up hearing the stories about shepherds in our scriptures. It apparently used to be a job that was honorable. Our fathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were all shepherds. Moses was a shepherd. The prophet Amos was a shepherd. And of course most famously King David was a shepherd. But it seems like shepherding has changed. I think maybe it has become more of a business than merely a way of life.
I think one of the big differences between the shepherd mentioned in the scriptures and us today is that they all owned their sheep, and for them it was a way of life. But me, I didn’t come from much, never really had an opportunity to own any sheep of my own. I have always just been the hired hand. An hourly worker. And I have discovered that I am pretty good at it. It’s hard work for sure, and over the years I have worked for many different owners. It’s tough, but it pays the bills.
I remember when I was young, full of dreams and ambitions, I wanted to travel. See the world. My father died when I was a kid and my mother, my siblings, and I ended up moving around and living with different family members for a while. Always struggled to make ends meet. When I was a teenager I ended up meeting this amazing girl, fell in love, and then got married. We were both very young and then she became pregnant with our first child and so I had to find work so I could be a responsible husband and father.
We were living in Bethlehem at the time and I heard that one of the local farmers was looking to hire some help for the sheep. I got the job. He quickly entrusted me with more and more responsibilities and it wasn’t long before I was taking his whole flock out into the fields for days on end. That first years was rough. It was good work. But it was hard. My wife had our baby and because of the shepherding job I was gone for days at a time and had to work long hours and had to tend the flocks at night. I remember coming home after a 48 hour shift and feeling all the stares from our neighbors and townsfolk. What kind of man would leave his wife and newborn child at home? I felt shame and dishonor. But I didn’t know what else to do. Working through the night sucked. But I would come home and look at my baby daughter, hold her tight, and tell myself “this is why I keep doing this.” I can’t tell you how many times I wanted to quit. Being out with the sheep and the wild animals would come attack. That’s how I ended up getting the nickname bear. That was quite a story… one for another time for sure. Almost didn’t survive that one. Anyway, fighting off wild animals is not actually fun. It’s messy. And being tired all the time. Fighting with other shepherds for pastures. All I could think about was “How in the world did King David do this? Or Moses?” Were they despised by their community? Did they feel shame and dishonor? I found myself often thinking of the song that was sung in the synagogue sometimes, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He maketh me lie down in green pastures, and leads me beside still waters.” I always loved that song and remember it bringing me some comfort, but man, living as the shepherd was not all green pastures and still waters. It’s hard work. “I’m doing this for my wife and daughter, I kept telling myself.”
And then Jesus happened. I still can’t believe they crucified him. His life changed so many people. Had such an impact on people’s lives. But it seemed to have the greatest impact on people like me. Who felt shame and dishonor. I felt like I couldn’t give my wife and daughter what they deserved. I’ll never ever forget that night. That glorious night. Oh what a glorious night it was. It was cold and wet. I remember I was working a shift with a couple other shepherds and we were trying to keep a fire going. And then all of a sudden the rain stopped. And I can’t explain what happened next. There was this glory that appeared. It was like a bright light, but not like any light that we had ever seen. We all looked at each other with amazement and fear. We thought we were going to die. And then slowly before our eyes this light began to take shape and all of a sudden this voice came from this blaze of glory. It said,
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”Luke 2:10–14, ESV
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
In that moment… nothing else mattered. We all knew that we had just experienced something that had not been experienced in a very long time. All of us shepherds knew the stories of how YHWH used to speak to the prophets but had been silent for hundreds of years. Faith in God for us had kind of become ancient folklore. It was something our grandparents believed and practiced and continued to worship but it just kind of seemed a little hokey. Old fashioned. But that night it got real. We all experienced God’s glory and we knew it.
We didn’t even really have to discuss anything. We all looked at each other and knew we were going into Bethlehem. We immediately all jumped up, left the sheep where they were, and ran into town. We found Mary and Joseph and the new baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and laying in a manger just as the angels had told us we would. It was obvious we were shepherds. We were a mess, we didn’t smell great and were pretty dirty. But they didn’t seem to mind. They talked with us and we told everyone there what we had just experienced and much to our surprise they were astonished and amazed. And then… after a short while, Mary looked at me and said, “Oran, would you like to hold the baby?” Nobody had ever asked me if I wanted to hold a baby before. I of course had held my daughter but that was the only baby I had ever held. I’ll never forget cradling baby Jesus and looking into his eyes. I felt honored, free of shame. Maybe for the first time in my life. This baby looked up at me and I knew there was something different about him. I can’t really explain it but I knew. I knew I was experiencing history. That this baby was going to change the world.
We all left that night different people. We had a bounce in our step. We started singing and praising God. We were so excited. We told everyone we could. Most everyone else I think thought we were a little crazy and had been out in the pasture too long but we didn’t care. We knew what we had seen and experienced. And we knew it was real. After that night it became easier for me to go to work. The disapproving stares and people trying to shame me no longer affected me the way it did before that night.
Mary and Joseph ended up staying in Bethlehem for a few years and whenever we would see each other we would wave and smile knowing that we shared a truly divine experience. My wife and daughter were able to eventually meet Mary and Joseph and the baby too. It was a very sacred season in our life. Eventually things got really crazy with King Herod and Mary, Joseph, and Jesus ended up having to flee to Egypt and then eventually made their way back to Nazareth where they were living before Jesus was born. I remember running into Mary years and years later during one of our festivals in Jerusalem and she told me, “Oran, the things you shared that night, your experience with the angels, I have never forgotten and I have often pondered and thought about them and have held them dear to my heart.”
I never did see another Angel. I didn’t really know Jesus as an adult either. I had heard of his teachings and his miracles, but never got the chance to experience them personally. However, that night, over thirty years ago, my life changed. I truly experienced the greatest miracle of all. I experienced God and his favor. Why he would choose me, a lowly shepherd, to show his glory and experience the birth of his Son, still confounds me. But oh how I am so grateful he did.
My hope for you all today is that you might experience God in some miraculous way. Maybe through my story you might begin to experience God in a new way. God has chosen you and me to be a part of his story. And no matter what you do or who you are, if you are the owner of the sheep, a shift worker who works the graveyard like myself, a mother, or a carpenter, we all have a role to play in God’s story. God came to this earth as a baby, like us, to show us that our life does matter to him. That he cares for us. So no matter what, may you find God’s love, faith, joy, and hope this season.