Every morning, our golden retriever, Ben, greets us as if we’ve been away for weeks. If my son does not wake up early enough for Ben’s liking, Ben sits outside his room and whines. And in the evening, when we sit down to watch television, Ben always finds a way to squeeze onto the couch.
Living in such a close relationship with human beings means that domestic animals have become dependent on us, and as a result, vulnerable. We feed and care for them, and they depend on us.
The relationship between animals and humans gives us insight into the presence of the shepherds in the story of Christ’s birth.
So when I read that God sent his angels to shepherds, I can’t help but wonder, ‘Why shepherds?’
One possible answer lies in the message that came to the shepherds. In the night, as they were keeping watch, the angel of the Lord appeared before them. “Don’t be afraid,” he comforts them, “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior–yes the Messiah, the Lord, has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” (Luke 2:10-11)
When the Shepherd is finally born, God sends the news to the shepherds.
Who better to understand the significance of a leader who will protect and care for his people than those who are doing the same for their flock?
And suddenly the angels’ words became clear: these were tidings of great joy, which will be for all people.
Jesus will shepherd a flock. His care will extend to the ends of the Earth. And indeed, he is adding to this flock, bringing people from every tribe, tongue, and nation together under his protection.
But he is also a Good Shepherd, the kind of shepherd who stands between his flock and destruction and offers himself as a sacrifice.
And not only does this Good Shepherd protect his sheep, he also does not harm them.
In Jeremiah 23:1-2, the Lord declares: “What sorrow awaits the leaders of my people—the shepherds of my sheep—for they have destroyed and scattered the very ones they were expected to care for, says the Lord. Therefore, this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to these shepherds: “’Instead of caring for my flock and leading them to safety, you have deserted them and driven them to destruction. Now, I will pour out judgment on you for the evil you have done to them.’”
Yes, the Good Shepherd lays his life down for his flock, but he also cares for us when we have been harmed, when our trust is broken, and when our vulnerability is exploited.
Just as he himself was raised to new life, he promises to raise us as well.
Hear this truth: the Lord is your Good Shepherd. He leads you beside still waters. He restores your soul. When you walk through the darkest valleys and your fears come pressing in, when the pain and memories surface, he is with you, protecting, defending, and comforting you.
He supplies all you need and guards you when those who hate you come near. He fills your days with goodness and mercy until he brings you safely home to dwell in his house forever. (Psalm 23)
*For deeper reflection, listen to Jeremiah 23 today.
- Jeremiah 23
Excerpted with permission from Heaven and Nature Sing: 25 Advent Reflections to Bring Joy to the World by Hannah Anderson. Copyright 2022, B&H Publishing.