Why the Shepherds matter

Last week, I mentioned the Wise Men and why I believe they are important to the Nativity narrative.

Today, I thought we would discuss why the shepherds were at the birth of the Savior.
Once more, God did not call the priests or the kings to come to the manger. Rather, he called the lowly shepherds to come and give witness to the miracle of the Messiah.

Why is that?

Shepherds were the working men of that generation.
They travelled far and wide to find good feeding grounds for their large flocks.
They held no sway in the courts, no power in the synagogues.
They may have had only minimal education, as they would not have been near a synagogue, or destined to teach in one.
Depending on how many were in charge of their flocks, many of them might have gone weeks without seeing another shepherd, as they roamed.
They were protectors of their flocks. They watched for predators and thieves, they sought out the lost sheep and worked hard to find them fresh water.
These men would have been alert to any change in their flock.
They would not allow one to straggle away, but would seek them out to bring them back into the midst of the flock. If one faltered due to an illness, they would have brought them up to their own shoulders and carried them to the place of that night’s rest.
These men would have known the exact number of sheep in their flock and would have accounted for each, numerous times during the day.

Why did God choose these men to be a the birth of His Son?

We do not know who the shepherds were that bowed before the Child. We do not know how many they numbered as that is not mentioned either.

But, we do know that an angel of the Lord came before them. “Do not be afraid, for I bring good news that will cause great joy for all the people. For this day a Savior is born in the town of David; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. (Luke 2:9-12)”

Then they saw and heard the great host singing “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those whom his favor rests. (v14)”

And these shepherds went. I highly doubt they would have left their flocks alone, as that was their livelihood. And really, could you imagine these men who just heard from angels, doing Rock/Paper/Scissors over who got left behind to tend the flock while the rest went to see the Savior? I don’t think so.

I always like to imagine that these flocks flooded the small town of Bethlehem as these shepherds hurried to the manger. It was at night, and the awe inspiring vision of angels descending from heaven was still burned into their retinas, perhaps the sheep led the shepherds that night to their Savior. Or it could just be my writer’s imagination filling in the details.

I honestly do not know what happened to the sheep, what the shepherds did when they saw the Child, or what happened to them after. They did tell the story after laying eyes on the family, and people were amazed. But, what did they say? The common man would have believed them, but would have the teachers and priests?

The shepherds matter because they would have been culturally insignificant.

God does this numerous times throughout the Bible. He chooses people with no power in the courts or temples; women, slaves, Gentiles, and ultimately the low man on the working totem pole, to tell of his glory. He chooses these people to see glorious wonders; angels, the Risen Lord, prophecies and visions. They are chosen because God is not just the God of the rich or those who are proud, rather He is for the forgotten and belittled.

God sees no distinction in the worth of a human. That is why the shepherds matter to the Nativity narrative.

He chose the common man to be the first to lay eyes upon the King of the Jews. No gifts to give, but perhaps the warmth of a flock of sheep that huddled together. They would have stepped in to that humble room, in their rough clothing, without having been primped for the encounter. They would have come as they were.

The shepherds matter because they are representations of the Jewish common man who sought the promised Messiah.

The shepherds matter because they are representation of the common person who seeks.

The average person is not going to come to God with gold and knowledge, rather with humbleness and brokenness and with nothing to give.

The Wise Men showed that God was for every human- not just the Jewish– no matter their background.

The shepherds show that even if you are not rich or learned, God is for you as well.

There was no mistake in who God chose to be there. Each person had a distinct purpose.

Those who He denied entrance to is also very important. Riches will not save you, nor will knowing all the ‘right’ answers.

The priests thought they knew when the Messiah would come and that He would come as a warrior to save them from slavery.

The Messiah came as a baby instead nestled in hay, to preach peace and forgiveness.

The priests refused to see the truth because it didn’t follow their specifications, much like churches today.

The Wise Men saw the truth in the star and believed in the prophecy. When they laid eyes on the Baby Jesus, they saw God.

King Herod was not chosen because he refused to give over power. He was fearful of any ‘King of the Jews’ rising and winning the power from him. That is why he ordered the slaughter of hundreds of little boys, echoing the Pharaoh of Egypt’s play when Moses was born. It was not done in power, but rather fear, much like the governments of today.

The shepherds did not have power, nor did they seek it, rather they saw truth in a humble home. They saw a baby in a manger who would one day be king. They saw God choosing to lay in hay, rather than sit on a throne.

They saw power wrapped in humbleness.

There is a purpose for why God chose certain people to come see His Son. For Jesus Christ, the Messiah, Savior of all Mankind is a shepherd as well. He seeks out all who are lost, gathering them to him. He protects them from evil and finds safe places for them to rest. When they are weary and can no longer walk on their own, Jesus puts them on his shoulders and carries them. He knows each by name and knows when one wanders away. He seeks each out.

Is it any wonder that God chose shepherds to be the first to see His Son?

Luke 2: 8-20
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in the highest,
    and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”[c]

15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 ButMary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.


Why the Wise Men matter

I’ve always been curious about the men who came from the East. 
Imagine the scene: an undisclosed number of men studying numerous prophecies, the stars, and other occurrences in nature.They collected bits of information for years. They knew about the prophecies of the Jewish people, even though they weren’t Jewish themselves.
Suddenly, a star is noticed to be rising in the West, and they set out to follow it.
While we don’t know exactly how far in the East they were, church tradition says that at least one might have been a black, probably Ethiopian, and perhaps another being of Asian decent. How the tradition started I’m unsure, though later on the name of Magi became known as followers of the 6th century Zoroaster, which seemed to reach beyond Persia to Asia.
Either way the important thing here is, the Magi were not Jewish. 
These men followed the prophecies of a people they were not of. 
These men traveled a long distance to bow down in front of a king they would not be ruled by. 
These men were Gentiles. 
They were not only the first Gentiles to lay eyes on the King of the Jews, but also the Savior of the world. 
The Magi were men who were astronomers, fortunetellers, magicians, and seers. 
In the Jewish culture, those who practice star study, or anything related to magic, are seen as practitioners of evil, due to the very laws that God put down for them. 

Deuteronomy 18:10-11 Let no one be found among you who sacrifices their son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead.

But, who are the very people God chooses to see the Savior of all mankind? The very people he warns his nation against.
That is why the Wise Men matter in the Nativity story.
According to Jewish culture these men should have been killed for practicing magic, instead they gave gifts to a baby who would grow up into a man who would be killed to forgive sins.
Their sins.
This is why the Wise Men matter.
These men would have traveled home to study the stars yet again, to wait for more of the prophecy to unfold. I wonder if they knew thirty three years later when Jesus was crucified. If they realized that the baby they saw in a humble home in Bethlehem, was the very one that was paraded though town being tortured and mocked.
These men though would have traveled back to their homeland, telling of the prophecy and the star. Of the virgin mother and the God-man child. They would have told of the truth seen in the stars and how they heard an angel speak to them.
What did they think when King Herod went after all the little boys? When Israel ran red with the blood of children, because of a king that feared being disposed?
Men who saw things in the stars, met the God who created them, born in the body of baby boy.
Men who practiced magic, saw miracles in a new star rising and angels warning them.
The Wise Men matter because they were the first Gentiles to see the Messiah.
The Wise Men matter because they were chosen to be in the presence of a God they do not know.
The Wise Men matter because they, rather than Jewish royalty or priests, saw the truth in a star, and followed it.
The Wise Men matter because they believed in the prophecy.
These men who came from the East have always fascinated me.
I hope you might look at them with some of that same fascination.
As a Gentile who is in love with the Savior, I’m thankful for their part in the Nativity story.
Merry Christmas!

If you would like to learn a little more about what the Myrrh, Frankincense, and Gold mean that the Magi brought to Baby Jesus, jump over to my friend’s blog where she recounts a fascinating sermon she heard: heidibay.wordpress.com 

Matthew 2 New International Version (NIV)

The Magi Visit the Messiah

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod,Magi[a] from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. “In Bethlehem in Judea,” they replied, “for this is what the prophet has written:

“‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
    who will shepherd my people Israel.’[b]

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.”

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with giftsof gold, frankincense and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.


Dare to Discipline

It always sounds like such a negative word.
For some of us, it only brings back bad memories as well as painful emotions.
Others might have a hard time distinguishing true discipline during their childhood.
Listening to talk shows and reading articles about discipline, we might come to the conclusion that discipline is actually abuse.
Children have the right to sue for independence because their parent spanked them.
It is now politically incorrect to condone spanking because it is considered inhumane and abusive.
Now, just to be clear, I am talking about open palm on the bottom. I DO NOT condone abuse and I believe that if at any time someone suspects that a child is being harmed, that child needs to be removed from a dangerous situation immediately.
There is a distinct difference between discipline and abuse. I know that there are way too many ‘guardians’ out there who enjoy their power over innocent children and wield it harshly. Abuse tends to reap abuse. It is a vicious cycle. It has to be stopped.
But, to tie parent’s hands when they are attempting to raise their children up to be decent people? I question this.
We are so busy being friends with our children that we are refusing to do the necessary teaching to make sure they become adults that we would like to know.
We are letting children run the show in the home and in public.
I am not yet blessed to be a parent. But, I have taken care of numerous children and I have eyes that take in the unapologetic horror that children have become in public.
I cannot help but think, “I would never have been allowed to do that!”
I am a woman who was shaped by the love of my parents.
I am a woman who understands respect and honor for those who are older than me.
I have learned how to wait patiently for my time to talk.
I have learned how to be helpful and dependable to those I work with.
I have learned the value of my word as well as keeping my promises.
Discipline DOES NOT need to by physical. But it does need to be a part of child rearing.
Instead of rewarding a child for misbehaving, there needs to be repercussions for not listening.
If a child runs out in to oncoming traffic after you distinctly say “no” what do you do?
I was spanked. I was hugged then I was promptly spanked. What do I remember crying over? My mom’s fear.  She was terrified and wanted me to know it. I was spanked twice after being hugged, then I was hugged again and sent into the house. I don’t remember the pain, because let’s admit it. Two open palmed spanks are more startling that hurtful. If I remember correctly I was still in my cushy underpants, so there isn’t much chance of it hurting that much.
I had my mouth rinsed out with soap, because I spoke disrespectfully to my parents and used language that needed to be corrected. It was only once and once was more than enough.
I did not grow up to be a bully because I was disciplined. I grew up to be someone who stood up for those who were bullied. And I think it was because my parents loved me enough to be my parents, not my friends. I now count them my closest friends, but it is because I respect them for who they are and the fact that they never swerved in how they took care of my brother and I.
Admittedly, I had my moments of teenage anger, because like most teens I thought I understood the world and didn’t much care for the way my parents were leading me.
But, now? I can go back and thank them for their care and support.
I knew that I could not play my parents against each other. They spoke to each other and agreed the best course of action. They were a united front when they dealt out discipline.
They did not talk negatively about each other to us children, which I think is key to my respect for them.
Discipline is needed.
It shouldn’t be a hit and miss type of discipline, but a rule that children can rely on. I honestly do believe that children crave discipline. I have met numerous people who speak about their ‘free’ childhood, where they got allowances for doing nothing, all of the newest  toys were theirs for a simple beg, and they went on expensive vacations, and they rarely now talk to their parents. Why? If they got everything they wanted, why wouldn’t they love their parents?
Most of their complaints seem to be that the parents were trying to buy their affections or their good behavior. Most admit that they were spoiled brats who got away with what ever they wanted to do.
Friends that were raised closer to my own childhood almost all respect their parents and are raising their own children in a similar manner.
Would you rather see more children running free in the store? Yelling and throwing items? Or would you rather know that each child is being a watched by a parent who will keep them close?
When you are sitting in the restaurant, would you like to see children sitting quietly with attentive parents? Or have your ears blown out with screams and having to scrap off food that was tossed?
If I ever had acted like that, I would have been quickly taken out of the restaurant or store and put in the car. One parent would have stayed with me while the other finished paying and then we would have gone home where I would have had to go to my room. There was no tv in my room, no video games. All I was allowed to do was sit quietly until I was released. Then I was given special chores to complete.
Dare to be different in this world of being ‘easy’ parents, dare to discipline.
Dare to be the parents that God calls you to be. God does not discipline us because he hates us, but because he loves us. True love shows discipline.
How do I know that I am a child of God? He corrects my behavior by disciplining me.
It is not always comfortable, but is always needed.
How can we do any less if we wish to raise children of worth?
It’s hard. It’s messy. I know this. Emotionally it can be horrible because you don’t want to be the mean one. But would you rather raise your children right and know that you have given them as much help as possible in facing the world? Or would you rather give them no help in realizing that the world will not give them anything simply because they demand it?
Discipline is much different than abuse. Abuse is horrible and must be stopped. Discipline does not need to be physical to be effective.  Discipline is needed so that we can raise up the next generation of honorable and respectful people. If we call our children our future, shouldn’t we want to see them ready to take it on?

Proverbs 22:6- Train up a child the way he should go; even if he is old he will not depart from it. 
Hebrews 12:11- For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.

Beautiful age

Today’s culture in America is truly negative against those who are aging. It’s an abomination to the “beauty” companies who keep improving their formulas so that one might have less wrinkles. We puncture our skin with needles and knives to get tighter skin, while we insert foreign objects that were not created by the God of Creation into the very body given to us- simply to deny our own age.
Women fib their ages by decades while men go into mid-life crises trying to prove they aren’t as old as their birth certificate proves.
Why do we hate age so much in this culture?
In many other cultures- that have some how stayed untouched by America’s brashness- age is something to be venerated. They hold a special place in the family hierarchy and those who hit a certain age are sought after for their wisdom. In tribal cultures they are the rulers of the village- guiding it along treacherous paths so that they might thrive. In many cultures the grandparents live with the children, helping take care of the grandchildren and helping the family prosper. They have respect and honor.
Then there is America. Where we have totally turned upside down what it means to be family. Where more families are torn apart by selfishness than anything. Where broken families are meshed together with other broken families in an attempt to heal which causes more problems than it mends. Where family members are replaced, misplaced, and displaced as easily as a pair of shoes. Where family is something you make rather than being born into, when gathering a group of friends that fit your criteria is better than your own blood. This is America in all of her broken misunderstanding.
But, then when we age, our family- because of our culture- decides we no longer matter in the grand scheme of the family. So we do our ‘duty’ hopefully and place Grandma/pa in a nursing home– spend the money so that they are out of sight out of mind. We can’t be bothered taking care of an ailing human who only takes up time and valuable resources. Better to pay someone else to do so we don’t have to be bothered.
So life goes on.
We fight the act of aging because we fear the very thing we have done to our own parents happening to us.
The Baby Boomer generation in fact are facing this dilemma more than anyone right now. There are more than 78 million baby boomers out there who are hitting the age of 65. As a caregiver many of my clients will now be part of that generation. They will also be the ones who will fight the most about what it means to be considered old. And because of their own actions towards their own parents- their children will mimic them. They will most likely be one of the most forgotten aging generations in the retirement and nursing centers than any previous one. Many families have not instilled in their children the need to respect and honor their elders, so many children and grandchildren will not understand the need to care for their aging family members and will even begrudge the need to put money towards their care.
Euthanasia and assisted suicide are on the way to being a normal action of an aging generation because they fear age and suffering- and they want to die on their own terms.
Age is beautiful. Your face will show the pages of your life. The silver of your hair will show the wisdom you have gained through pain and joy. Why do we fight something so beautiful?
I served a woman who made it to her 105th birthday- a woman who lived through the War to End all Wars- twice. A woman who saw technology create wondrous things never thought possible. She met many people and she was a blessing to know. She didn’t fear death but embraced life like an old friend. The beauty carved into her face made her radiant. A small woman in stature but a giant in personality. To sit at her feet and hear the stories are some of my fondest memories.
I love to hear the stories these elders carry. Sadly, many of them will go unheard and forgotten because we can’t be bothered to take the time to listen. Wisdom will be loss and ignorance will be hailed the victor.
Embrace age I say! Sure, your joints will ache, your sight might fail, your hearing might go- but share your wisdom. I am not saying that age doesn’t have it shortcomings but the wisdom that you can impart is worth so much. Don’t let your children be ignorant and don’t hide from age. No matter how much one might hide- it will always find you. You think you might erase your wrinkles of years pass, but one day you’ll look in the mirror and realize that you look much older now than if you had just let life creep over your face the way it was going too.

A poem I wrote to a client who was apologizing for getting old:

You’re Not Old!
For Ann M-C
By Ranelle Gildersleeve
August 2012

You don’t eat slow- you’re savoring every bite!
You don’t walk slow- you’re smelling the roses!
You aren’t hard of hearing- you’re having deep thoughts!
You don’t sleep too much- you’re just praying a whole lot more!
You’re joints aren’t popping- you ate Rice Krispies this morning!
You don’t have false teeth- you just have an extra smile!
You don’t go to the doctors a lot- you just go to get updates on their families!
You don’t take too many pills- you are just supporting your local pharmacy!
You don’t forget things- you just keep them in an extra safe spot!
You don’t repeat stories- you just remember the good times!
You’re not old- you just see the world a little better!

 A letter from an aging mother to her daughter: The day I am getting old