JOY – the Shepherds

    Searching His Word, Seeking His Heart

Shepherds? Dirty smelly shepherds? What are they doing in this story of the birth of the Son of God? After all, they’re not even fit to testify in a court of law.

Of course, Temple leaders were glad to purchase their sheep for Temple sacrifices—and earn money in the process when they sold the sheep.

Yet, these keepers of the flocks are the very ones to whom the angel appeared to bear the news of the Savior.

Imagine the shock of those shepherds when they were aroused by the brilliant light of the angel on that dark, sleepy night. Like other angelic visitations, the shepherds were startled.

“Do not be frightened,” the angel said. “I bring you good news of great JOY. Today in the town of David [Bethlehem] a Savior has been born to you. He is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:10-11

“Christ” is the Greek word for “Messiah.” This is big stuff, my friends. The shepherds may not have been learned men of the ancient texts, but they did know what this meant.

Now just to make a more human connection for them, they were given a sign to help them see for themselves. (Note—it was not the star. That was given to the Magi.)

“You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:12

As if they weren’t totally awed by this angel, a heavenly host of angels appeared, filling the skies with more brilliance, declaring their praise to God and peace to those who believe.

We don’t know if the angels suddenly disappeared or flew away a few at a time. But when they were all gone and it was a dark night again, I wonder if the shepherds sat stunned for a few moments wondering if they really saw what they thought they saw. 

A light bulb may have flipped on in one of their minds as if suddenly remembering the sign. “Let’s go down to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened.” Imagine their hearts pumping as they took off in a run.

Where would they go? I’d say manger to manger, looking for a baby. No one else would put a newborn in a feeding trough. So, if they found a baby in one of these stables, that would definitely be the one.

When they tip-toed quietly into the stable, they told their story. This wasn’t the dazzling JOY they had experienced on the hillside. No, this was heartfelt, fall-to-your-knees kind of JOY that brings tears to your eyes.

They left the stable and spread the word of all the things they had seen and heard.

. . . and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. Luke 2:18

God sent the news of His sacrificial lamb to the shepherds of lambs. Years later, Jesus declared himself the good shepherd.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” John 10:11

The shepherd to lead you, the sacrificial lamb to save you. Blessed be his holy name. Merry Christmas.

~ Joyce ~

House of Bread

Searching His Word
Seeking His Heart

Those of Asian background likely look to rice as their staple food, but in my growing up years, it was potatoes. Mashed, fried, boiled, or baked, we had some kind of potatoes almost every night.

For those in Jesus’ day, the staple was likely bread. Kind of like, “What shall we have with our bread this morning or at lunch or this evening?”

It was such a mainstay of their diet that they often referred to it when talking about having a meal together. “Let us break bread together.” Early Christian believers might think of the last supper and its meaning as they ate. As they gathered together, they…

…devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Acts 2:42

It may seem strange to us to think of “breaking” bread. Maybe slicing or tearing. But breaking bread?

A few years ago, we visited Nazareth in Israel at a place called The Nazareth Village. A guide talked to us about the customs and ways Jesus talked to the people about the familiar things around them. Those who put this area together intended it to be as authentic as possible complete with a well, people walking about in biblical clothes, a farmer plowing a field, a shepherd keeping his sheep in tow, and a place to eat lentil soup, figs, hummus, and of course, bread. 

I remember watching the lady bent over a somewhat rounded stove of sorts. She kneaded the dough and flapped it on the hot iron for a bit, then turned it over. The flat,  (maybe 10 inch) circular bread was carried on a flat basket to the table. We each broke off a piece to put on our own plates—not quite the texture of crackers, but close, “cracker bread” you might say.

John tells us that one day the people asked Jesus for a sign, a sign like Moses gave the people in the form of bread from heaven, the manna. Jesus explained to them that eventually the manna-eaters died, but the true bread from heaven…

“…is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” John 6:33

“Give us this bread,” they said. Then Jesus told one of his “I am” illustrations.

“I am the bread of life.” John 6:35

Jesus goes on to explain.

“For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life.” John 6:38, 40

One last thought—”Beth” means “house of.” Therefore, Bethel = house of God. Bethsaida = house of  fishers. Bethlehem = house of bread.

Isn’t it appropriate that Jesus was born in Beth-lehem? House of (the) bread of life.

Prepare your hearts for the coming season!

~ Joyce ~

Testimony of a Bethlehem Shepherd

One night I was out in the field near Bethlehem helping my nephew and uncle with their flock. We had settled the sheep down for the night in the pen. I walked up the hill playing my flute over this peaceful scene, when out of no where a bright light appeared and a man startled us. The light glowed all around him. We could see each other plain as day. My flute went dangling at my side and I fell to the ground, covering my face. We were scared half out of our wits.

The strange man said, “Do not be afraid, because I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” I looked out carefully from behind my hands and thought I must be dreaming or something. I blinked my eyes, trying to get use to that light.

The man in the light was excited, so I tried to listen real careful knowing this must be something very important. The man said, “Today in the town of Bethlehem, a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” Then I knew it was important! By this time I figured he was an angel of the Lord. Who else could he be?

The angel said, “This will be a sign to you. You will find the baby wrapped in clothes and lying in a manger.”

Before we could take all that in, suddenly there was a great company of the heavenly host appearing with the angel. It nearly took my breath away. The whole sky was lit up with all of them singing and praising. They said, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests. Glory to God. Glory to God!” We were absolutely awestruck.

When the angels went back into heaven, we stood there in amazement. We couldn’t speak. We couldn’t move. Finally, my nephew said, “Let’s go Bethlehem to see this thing that has happened that the angel told us about.” We didn’t stop to think about the sheep. Guess we thought the Lord would take care of them since he gave us such important business.

Well, we hurried off down the hill and around the bend. We couldn’t believe any mother would have her baby in a stable, but we looked in every stable in town. They were all full because of the census, you know. When we ran to the last stable, we saw a lantern light. Sure enough, there was the baby all swaddled up tight in strips of cloths lying in a manger of straw. His mother and father were sitting beside him.

In the quiet, we realized how loud our panting sounded. We finally caught our breath and whispered, “Shalom.” The baby’s mother invited us to come closer. Can you believe a nice lady like that would let us dirty old shepherds get close to her new baby?

Her husband welcomed us, too. We spoke real soft to them because we didn’t want to wake the baby. We just looked at the baby a long time. Kind of like looking at a newborn lamb – all full of life. We knew deep in our hearts that this was a special baby. After all, the angel said “He is Christ the Lord.” You don’t get any more speacial than that.

We told the mother and father about the angel and what he said and the host of angels and their song and the light and everything.

But, you know, the parents didn’t seem the least bit surprised. I guess it was because somehow they knew it was all true.

~Merry Christmas from Joyce~