Memoirs of a Shepherd

This was Pastor Natsis’ message for church on Wednesday Evening, December 18, 2019. Follow along with an audio recording of the message if you are able:

I could hardly believe my eyes. At first I thought I was dreaming. I’d never seen anything like it before. I had spent so many nights in the fields, ever since I was a young boy. My family lived in Bethlehem, but when you’re a shepherd, your home is less a home and more a place you happen to sleep at occasionally. Most nights were out with the sheep. Most nights were dark. Most nights were cold. Most nights were boring.

The boring nights were the good nights, though, typically. Exciting nights were not a good thing, because for a shepherd excitement means fighting off predators or thieves. I don’t know if anyone’s told you this before, but sheep are not smart. They have almost no sense of self-preservation. When your source of income, your entire livelihood, is wrapped up in the well-being of a group of creatures that will occasionally jump off of cliffs, things can be a little tricky. We always tried to be thankful for the boring nights.

And this was a boring night. For a while. I can’t remember if it was my turn to be on watch or my turn to sleep, but all I know is that when that light flashed in the sky, my only choice was to be at full attention. I got my staff ready to fight, but I’m not even sure what it was I thought I was fighting.  What predator could make the sky light up? What thief looked like it had the glory of God surrounding him? This night went from very boring to very interesting—and very terrifying—very quickly.

Have you ever seen an angel before? I have now, ever since that night in the fields near Bethlehem, but I can hardly describe it. All I can tell you is what he said: “Do not be afraid.” Are you kidding me? A messenger from God himself bursts into my life, ripping the night sky with a light I can barely explain, and his first words are “Do not be afraid?” But as crazy as it sounds, that greeting…put my mind at ease. It was calming, even though I wasn’t even sure if I was dreaming or not.

The angel kept talking: “I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” So many thoughts and emotions began to race through my mind. This is clearly a message from God. This is clearly amazing. And the content of that message is almost unbelievable—the Messiah is here? The one who was prophesied has arrived? Is this real? Is this true?

I doubted it. Shame on me, in the middle of all this amazingness, I doubted it. The thing that kept me from really believing it was…well, myself. Why in all the world would an angel be announcing this to us? To me? Shepherds aren’t important. We’re nobodies. People hardly give us the time of day. We’re out in our fields doing our thing, and society doesn’t much care for our way of life. And even more than that, why this group of shepherds? I know these guys. They’re rough. They’re hardened. I’m one of them, and I know the things I’ve said and done in my life. Coming face-to-face with the glory of God really makes you do a gut-check. My heart wasn’t ready for this. I was not prepared. The coming of the Messiah? I think you’ve got the wrong audience, Mr. Angel. I can’t do anything with this message. That Savior has to be for someone else. I’m not ready.

Suddenly, a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

My thoughts were cut off. My doubts were silenced. My fears were replaced with wonder and amazement. I thought the one angel was glorious…and boy, did I not understand what I was in for. And all of a sudden, it made sense. This message isn’t about me. This message isn’t about how ready I am or how prepared I am. This message is about this Messiah. It’s about God’s glory. It’s about the entirety of my religion reaching its apex as the Promised One to Come actually came. A Savior—to save. A message of good news of great joy that will be for…all the people. Us included. Me included. I’m not prepared—I’ll never fully be prepared—but God sent these messengers to prepare us.

Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about. Let’s greet the Savior. Let’s worship the newborn king. Glory to God in the highest!

JWN

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