Today, a man I have known all of my life will be celebrated and committed to the grave. He and his brother grew up close friends with my Dad and his brother. Russ and Rollie... Ken and Mel... farm boys grew into men.
Still neighbors and still friends. Now, only 2 remain. They have lived long full lives doing what they loved to do.
Rollie was the shepherd of the bunch. Today, he has met the great shepherd.
Sheep men talk sheep. They know how they behave. They know what they need. They know better than the sheep. Sheep get curious or careless, get into trouble and need a shepherd... a savior.
Shepherds know their sheep and the sheep know the shepherd. I love this scripture:
The Lord sees you when you're sleeping because he doesn't sleep. He knows when you're awake. He knows your heart at the deepest, secret parts. Nothing gets by Him. He tried to explain this to the children of Israel. He wanted to be their shepherd... but they wanted the things of the world.
Jeremiah 7:8-10 says-
“Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations?"
God wanted them to understand that he sees everything. Not just their "church face" and best behaviors when they arrive at His house. No. He saw it all.... the good... the bad and the really ugly. Nothing is hidden from him.
God tries to explain to them that it is not about going through the motions of "going to temple"...but a matter of the heart. Attending events at church a few times a year makes us "God fans" at best...but not on the team. Seeking His heart daily...makes us his people. It is a daily walk and an intimate talk with the coach... from sun-up to sun-down.
God knows we have the ability to "go through the motions". He created us with an amazing intellect for learning and an aptitude for imitation. Still, that intellect can be what keeps us out of relationship with him.
God tries to clarify his desire for a true relationship. He desires more than sin offerings and duty...but children who hear his voice and live in ways that bring him honor. In Jeremiah 7:22-23, God reveals His heart's desire:
"For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them: ‘Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.’ "
Sound familiar? How about this paraphrase: "Love me enough to obey my voice and to make me your God. Then...walk in my ways so that your other relationships will be good. Love me. Love each other. It is how you can live well"
Again...the Old Testament meets the New Testament...fitting together like a puzzle piece. I love this stuff! You can't make this up.
God did not change in the 400 years between the two. He was simply present, ever watchful and quietly waiting for the time to be right. And, then the time was right.
Jesus didn't arrive looking for well educated, fancy folk. The Wise Men had to look beyond their learning and follow the star. They were forced to step outside of their wealth and "intellect" ...to act in faith, to find the babe in the manger. He wasn't in disguise...just unexpectedly ordinary.
In contrast to the wise men, the humble, common shepherds...the farmers of the day <3 ...="" and="" angels="" announce="" assignment.="" at="" awe="" birth="" busy="" chosen.="" common="" day="" evoking="" font="" god="" his="" lowly.="" nbsp="" of="" ones="" ordinary="" out="" people.="" savior...while="" seek="" sent="" shift="" simple.="" still="" the="" their="" them="" they="" third="" to="" were="" with="" work.="">3>
Yet, they were the ones who received the gift of the big announcement and the angel choir. They were sought out and given guidance so that they might be the first to welcome the newborn King. It was an unexpected honor they received that night. Why them?
If you have ever worked with sheep...you know the challenges. Sheep are easily led, skittish, curious and timid all at the same time. Sometimes, it seems they are just dumb. Shepherds must always be watchful and prepared for any new trouble the flock might find.
Sheep are not really dumb...just easily led. A monograph out of the U of IL school of Agriculture found them to be just below pigs and on par with cattle for intelligence. They are smarter than most thought. It is their tendency to follow the leader...any leader that emerges... that leads them into trouble and makes them look stupid. (Why is my ear worm quoting "all we like sheep have gone astray" in my head?)
Shepherds have to be committed, intuitive, watchful and resourceful. They can not be lazy, negligent or weak spirited. They must be strong enough to carry a sheep...yet, gentle enough to calm their skittish flocks. They collect wisdom along the way. In that light, could our God have chosen a better audience to announce the birth of the Messiah?
The shepherd must be commanding enough to lead the herd... but gentle enough to calm the scared in the flock. A commanding voice... with a gentle heart. That was the Rollie I knew. The man who called me by name... even as a child. The man who intimidated many, but the child's heart knew he was a friend, a protector and strong when I wasn't strong enough. He will be missed.
Rollie had fortunate sheep. He took great care of them.
We get to choose... must choose our shepherd.
Today, I am grateful for the shepherds and the Great Shepherd.