Who in the world wants to be guarded by…shepherds? I refer, of course, to the line in the famous Christmas carol “What Child Is This.” “This, this is Christ the King whom shepherds guard and angels sing.” Yeah a new born king should probably be guarded (especially if you have the current ruler trying to kill him), but by Shepherds?
I want to expound on an idea that I read about in my Advent devotional last night, namely that shepherds were an ideal group of people to welcome God wrapped up in human flesh that night in Bethlehem. You see, shepherds often play a key part in Biblical stories. King David himself was a shepherd. When God chose one of Jesse’s son’s to replace Saul as King of Israel, he didn’t pick one of the large, impressive older sons. He picked the young shepherd, much to the shock of Samuel and I’m sure to David as well. David and many Kings after him would be called “Shepherds of the People.” They weren’t always good at it either. In Ezekiel 34, the prophet condemns the leaders of Israel for not taking care of their flock and then promises that God will send his people a new shepherd.
That shepherd, the Good Shepherd, was born in a stable in Bethlehem and other shepherds showed up to welcome him. Those men were just sitting in the fields waiting and watching, just like we do during Advent, when they were given a message so awesome and from such an awesome source that they had to check it out. We are given that same message, how enthusiastically do we pursue it?
So yeah, shepherds are linked with the Davidic lineage and Christ himself, who calls himself the Good Shepherd, but still, doesn’t the King deserve better, especially the King of the Universe?
Think about kings, rulers, or world leaders today. How are they guarded? The President of the United States is always flanked by dour looking men and women in neatly pressed suits, often pictured with sunglasses. You can easily picture the stereotype, can’t you? You may not see it, but I bet most of them are armed to the teeth too. Think about all the pomp and circumstance that surrounds the British Monarchy: all the colorful uniforms and ribbons. One easily conjures the iconic image of the guards at Buckingham Palace. The Pope himself is guarded by the Swiss guard, who often parade around in odd looking colorful garb, but make no mistake, they are some of the best trained guards in the world.
Yet Jesus, born not in a palace but in a stable, attended not by soldiers armed to the teeth with guns, swords, and pikes, but by simple, probably smelly shepherds, invites us to consider a different image.
We are obsessed with security. Just look around at the news headlines right now. People seem to be absolutely terrified. Even in the United States where we have more money, more resources, and more guns than almost anybody else we live in constant fear that somebody is going to try to take us down, that somebody is going to try to take from us. That fear is fueling some of the most hateful rhetoric I can remember in 37+ years on this earth, even worse than immediately after 9/11 in my opinion.
Yet Jesus presents a life in stark contrast to that. He gave up all his stuff, everything that he was entitled to as God (which is a lot) and showed up in one of our small, frail, human bodies. Then he told us not to worry about tomorrow and not to worry about our stuff. He told us not to be afraid. He told us to love our enemies.
This caused him some trouble, and eventually the authorities of the day came for him. When they did, one of his friends (a fisherman by trade) pulled out a sword and tried to defend him, but Christ told him to put the sword away.
Many of our leaders tell us we must kill, we must commit acts of violence, and some suggest acts of unspeakable hate. Christ tells us that “those who live by the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52).
Christ let himself be taken away to be tortured and executed. As they killed him, he could have responded by calling down all the power of the universe on his executioners, but he prayed for them instead.
Do you see the contrast between the way of Christ and the way we are told it must be today?
God didn’t need or desire a phalanx of royal guards with polished weapons and pressed uniforms. All those humble shepherds had to offer him was their love, their loyalty, and their devotion.
Could it be that this is what he desires from us as well? He doesn’t want or need warriors or killers. He wants people who will love him and their neighbors. He wants people who will live like he did and be devoted to him. He wants people who are willing to lay down their lives for others.
So where does that leave you and me in this current climate of anger and fear? Can we really square Christianity with the current behaviors of our society? What can YOU do to make it better for just one person?
I invite all of us to think on this as we make our way through this Advent and into the next political year. Do we follow the Prince of Peace or our culture of fear?