Keeper of the Lambs
One of the benefits of growing older is reliving Christmas memories. This year I thought back to the time our older children were toddlers and preschoolers.
We were so poor that the only Christmas tree in our price range was a sparse Charlie Brown version. The only toys we could afford were used ones from the Goodwill store. If it hadn’t been for my oldest sister sending our little girls new dolls, and sending our son something equally nice, things would have looked pretty bleak from an adult standpoint.
And yet, our children’s eyes glowed with excitement and wonder on Christmas morning. Their innocence reflected the beauty of the season of giving.
I think that’s the way the shepherds must have felt—awestruck—when they gazed at a baby whose birth was announced by angels. And the innkeeper? Did he ever find out he passed up the birth of a king?
The Bible doesn’t give us a lot of details about the shepherds in the Christmas story. However, in my imagination, this is what it may have been like on the most eventful night in the history of mankind.
* * *
Call me Isaac. I live outside Bethlehem. Mostly outside.
In the right season, we shepherds keep our sheep in the pasture all the time. That means at night we start a campfire and watch for wild animals that might attack. We’re on watch for ourselves too because we could be attacked. But it’s the sacrificial lambs that we’re most concerned about.
That’s right—sacrificial lambs. The ones the priests use in the Temple offerings. They’re very special.
When a lamb is born, we take great care to make sure it has no flaws. If it’s perfect, we know it will be used as a sacrifice in about a year.
I feel sad sometimes when I see innocent little lambs frisking around the pasture. I know that in the future, they will be sacrificed to pay for human sins. If you ever had a lamb look you in the eyes just before the priest killed it, you would feel that way, too.
One night we were watching the sheep in the pasture. I was letting my son Elam nod off a bit while I stood with my back to the campfire. Suddenly a bright light appeared in the sky. And then—could it be? Angels! I’m telling you the truth; we saw angels in the sky—lots of them! They were praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
They told us to go to Bethlehem and find a special baby. We could see Bethlehem in the distance since our pasture lay just outside town.
It wasn’t hard to find this baby. The angels told us he would be lying in a manger and wrapped in swaddling clothes. It’s common practice for new babies to be wrapped in swaddling clothes, but well, lying in a manger? That meant the town was so busy the innkeeper put some guests in his stable or a cave.
When we reached town, it didn’t take long to find the stable. Bethlehem was a small village, and we knew the innkeeper.
Cautiously, we tiptoed to the door. Inside was a woman lying on a pile of hay. She looked exhausted, just like my wife looked after she delivered our firstborn. Next to her sat a man called Joseph. He looked dazed, like he saw something unusual, and didn’t know what to think.
“Excuse me, sir, ma’am, could we come in?”
Joseph acted startled. Then he breathed in relief when he saw we were just shepherds. His rough hands told us he was used to hard work, like we were.
“Sure. Come on in,” he said. We took a few steps toward a stall, and there he was--the Baby. A perfect, innocent little baby, lying in the animals’ feed box, just like the angels said. My friend Judah’s eyes got big, and his mouth dropped open. I swallowed hard at the lump in my throat.
“Isn’t he beautiful!” the woman said. We had to admit, he was. Just like those perfect little lambs we help deliver in lambing season.
I’m not sure if I’ll ever get to see that Baby again. I couldn’t help thinking he had the same innocent, sweet look in his eyes that our sacrificial lambs have when we take them to the Temple in Jerusalem.
Yes, I’m a keeper of the lambs. And to think I got to see the One God chose to set me free.
What are your thoughts this Christmas? How do we keep Christ in our celebrations? Don't forget to use the comment box below.