I met one of the Christmas shepherds
“When they (the shepherds) had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” – Luke 2:17-18
Shepherds weren’t in the higher echelons of society.
These were earthy, grimy workers. They had dirt under their fingernails and an unkempt look about them. They carried the smell of their labors. It reminds me of some of my relatives in the early years of working in the Pittsburgh steel mills – rough, unkempt, but solid people to be around.
Well, that’s what the shepherds appeared to be – solid guys who had something to say. They got a glimpse of God and ran to tell everyone about it.
They were poor.
They were lonely.
But now they were happy.
I recall the thin fellow that started attending my youth group one December years ago. Shane was his name; he was gangly, unwashed, and unsure of himself – but within ten minutes, he was part of us. It didn’t take him long to get accustomed to the surroundings; after the first icebreaker, he fit right into the place. Shane joined in all of the activities, ate as much as the biggest teen in my youth group, and listened intently whenever I gave a message from the Scriptures. He was, well, comfortable with us. Within a month, Shane made a decision to let the Lord Jesus take over his life, and we all witnessed what it did to him. His joy were evident every minute he was with us, from activities to prayer time. I would round up the teens and take them down to McDonalds or Pizza Hut, and skinny Shane would amaze us with his appetite – the kid could put it away! He was just as hungry in the Word – always asking questions and wanting to lend an ear to a discussion.
I took time to go visit him one Thursday night. His address was familiar; the location was a tough-living trailer park about five miles from our church, on the edge of a construction worksite. I had been here numerous times in visiting teens and parents, and the evident poverty always pulled at my heart. I glanced around as my headlights hit the faded trailers that were packed in tight, with barely ten feet in between them. More than a few showed dents and scrapes; this was a hardscrabble place. Crime was fairly rampant, but for some reason, I was well-liked in that little community and I never had to worry no matter where I went.
I knocked on the door of a tired-looking metal trailer with torn curtains and a solitary strong of Christmas lights in one window. Shane and his mom answered the door simultaneously.
“Hey, Mom! It’s Brad!” yelled Shane. “Hey, come on in, Brad!” He introduced me to his mother, who was very gracious. I greeted her, and as I looked around, I saw poverty written all over the room. The Christmas tree was a scrub artificial construction no more than three feet tall. One strand of garland looped around it. There were three presents next to it. One window had a crack in it. The couch was uneven and the television set was ancient.
There was no father evident. Over coffee Shane’s mom told me that her husband had been invisible for at least three years.
“Hey, Brad, I wanna show you my room,” Shane said, rising quickly. “C’mere! I got a new poster!”
I went down the hallway and Shane opened a side closet to his left. I thought he was going to retrieve an item, but he popped in and called for me.
That closet was his room.
His bed took up over three quarters of the space. There was barely enough area for me to step in; in fact, I couldn’t. I stood and leaned on the doorway. He threw himself onto his bed and pointed with the toe of his shoe. “What do you think?” On the wall was a poster of a cross and the glory of Heaven shining down on the scene.
“I just got it,” he grinned.
I grinned back. Shane was a wonder, friend. A true wonder. In the midst of all of this poverty, here was a kid who was truly joyful.
Shane was poor.
He was fatherless.
He was dirty.
But man, oh man, he had Jesus, and that inner peace was bustin’ out in him.
And now I take you back to the shepherds’ story for a second…
I found another thing thoughtful in this passage in Luke: the word “amazed”. Those who heard the shepherds were amazed at the story of the angels’ announcement and of the news of the Messiah. One definition of the word “amazed” is “to be wondered at, and held in admiration.” There may have been more than one person who admired these simple laborers for the Godly wonder they saw. Rough-hewn shepherds whom nobody really liked – now being held in higher regard because they were bearers of the Good News. They were admired, and rightfully so. It wasn’t about them – it was about Jesus Christ. We know none of their names; they will be anonymous through history. Does it matter? They got a glimpse of glory while here on earth. They couldn’t keep it in. They had to share it.
If Jesus means as much to us as it did to them, we should be doing the same.
They were poor but they were now powerful – they had Jesus.
Just like Shane.
Just like us.