When you ask people what they do for a living today, you often get answers like: "I'm an accountant." "I work in marketing." "I'm in medical school." "I work for my dad." (Dad, if you are reading this, and you ever need a writer, LMK.) And never say never, but I have never met a shepherd. However, that seemed to be the biblical version of what any male in grad school at Ole Miss was studying.
The Bible is filled with stories about shepherds. Moses was a shepherd, and so were David and Abraham. God Himself was called a shepherd. Jesus told the parable about leaving the flock of 99 to rescue the 1 sheep. Old Testament prophecies even foretold of a Shepherd. They loved a shepherd reference as much as I like to reference my love for Ina Garten, that I once lived in Florida, and, of course, my dog.
The frequent mention of shepherds in the Word makes it so much more important to reflect on the Newborn King’s first recorded visitors: shepherds, coming to visit the true Shepherd.
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. 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. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
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.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. Luke 2:8–20
There is so much to unpack in this passage, but something that sticks out to me is how terrified the shepherds were at the beginning of this story. If an angel and the “glory of the Lord” (the bright light/cloud/possibly a fire that pointed to God’s presence) appeared, I’d be pretty terrified too. And that was before the “multitude of heavenly host” arrived, consisting of thousands of angels. This feels more like the rapture than a holy visit. Scared as the shepherds may have felt, they went to find Jesus.
Upon seeing the newborn King, these shepherds proclaimed the “good news of great joy.” They didn’t keep this divine encounter to themselves; they made it known. The same shepherds who started this encounter “filled with great fear” and began this journey to find Jesus “with haste” are now “glorifying and praising God.”
I can’t fully relate to this encounter—obviously. I am no Shepherd and Jesus wasn’t born yesterday. But I can relate to the fear. I fear what God is doing (or not doing). I fear what He will call me to do (please nothing that involves the outdoors or heavy lifting). There’s also the general fear of trusting in Someone I cannot see.
You may feel this on a deep level today. You may be so scared about what’s next. You may really anxious about today or tomorrow or next week. But here’s the thing about a shepherd: he sees what the sheep cannot. He knows where the flock needs to be. He knows what’s ahead and behind and right in their midst. And he is always going to chase that one that goes astray.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. John 10:10–11
This is hope for those like me who feel heavy-laden with fear. Maybe you fear finding a new job or starting over in a new city. Maybe you fear that ends won’t meet or time will run out. Maybe you fear that God will never give you someone to marry or a little one to raise. Maybe you fear what the doctor will say or what your friends will say. Maybe you fear raising children in this culture.
Despite all the reasons to be filled with fear, it does not have to be this way. While crippling fear/anxiety are things that can/should lead you to seek help, I find it interesting that my (many!) fears are rooted in one thing: lack of faith.
I lack the faith that God has a plan. I lack the faith that God is in control because I am so desperate to be in control of things myself. I lack the faith that God is good because sometimes, the world just feels way too heavy to be in the hands of a good God.
But what Luke 2 and John 10 and every other chapter in the Bible tell us is that we have every reason to put our faith in the Good Shepherd. He is leading His flock. He is making us lie down in green pastures and leading us beside still waters. Just like He proved to the shepherds, He is showing us that amidst every reason to fear, the Lamb of God gives us peace on earth.
For all of us feeling fearful today about where God is (or isn't!) taking us, we can find hope because we are not left without a Shepherd.
What good news of great joy.