THE SHEPHERDS OF BETHLEHEM
SERMON PREACHED BY FR. TONY NOBLE ON December 26th 2010
St. John 1:12 “To all who received him and believed in his name he gave power to become children of God.”
“Power to become children of God.” If we were looking for an example of those who illustrate this particular verse we would have to look no further than the shepherds of Bethlehem. We don’t really think deeply about them. It’s possible that they were people just like us. They certainly had names, and probably families. Yet, of all the characters in the Christmas story, it is surely the shepherds who received Jesus and believed in his name as St. John says. Because they received him and believed on his name, and because they were just ordinary men, they certainly became children of God.
Ordinary men. It is the simplicity of the shepherds that first gets our attention. They were simple country folk, we might say, uncomplicated. They were connected by their work – and their very lives – to the earth and to their flocks. St. John Chrysostom says of the shepherds, “The angel did not deliver the good news to the Pharisees and Scribes, who were eaten up with pride and envy, but to simple men living in the ancient practices of Moses and the patriarchs.”
In their simple lives the shepherds were wiser than any philosophers – because they understood the truth, firstly about themselves and secondly about God. They depended on God in both the natural and the supernatural worlds.
Another thing we recognize about the shepherds is that the child they worship as the Christ will call himself the Good Shepherd. They who guide and protect their flocks are the first to worship Jesus, for whom guiding and protecting his flock is at the very heart of his ministry on earth.
The shepherds of Bethlehem knew how to care for their sheep. They knew them by their faces, and perhaps by name. They remind us that the Good Shepherd does the same for us. He knows us by name – and he laid down his life for his sheep. These shepherds of Bethlehem also remind us that this child is known to us as the Lamb of God. In 33 years time, he would offer himself as the Lamb of God that taketh away the sins of the world.
The shepherds came with simple devotion to worship the Christ child. Perhaps, they saw in him someone who is like one of their lambs that they so carefully watch and guard.
Jesus is more than a lamb. He is the Incarnate Word, who comes primarily as the Son of Man. The Son of God has become the Son of man. He is mortal, but not a sinner; offspring of the old race, and the beginning of the new creation of God.
“And to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God…….And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth.”