Friday, December 25, 2009

Adored By Social Outcasts

One late evening, a little over 2015 years ago, a man named Joseph and his young wife named Mary arrived in Bethlehem only to discover that there were no rooms at the local inn. Imagine the frightening situation they faced since Mary, who was expecting a child, probably had been experiencing birth pains for the last 10 miles of their 80 mile journey. Now that they had finally reached their destination they were told that the only place the inn keeper had to offer for their comfort was an animal shelter. This was not exactly the place Joseph expected he and his wife to be spending the night when they reached their destination. Imagine the stench from the animals and the flies that buzzed around them. Even considering the archaic way children entered the world back then, this was not the way Mary and Joseph had envisioned their first child being born. It would not be long after Joseph made Mary comfortable that the time for the child to be born had arrived. Soon Mary's screams from the pain of childbirth would break the silence of the night as their first Son entered the world. With only the animals to greet the newborn, it would not be long before some very unsavory individuals would stop to greet the new parents and their child. They were shepherds who had been tending their flocks when an Angel visited and told them that a child had been,
....For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger." Luke 2:12-13
I say unsavory, because times had changed since the days when King David was a young shepherd boy and God has chosen him to lead Israel. By the time Jesus was born, shepherds were among the lowest and most despised social groups in Judea. The very nature of a shepherd's job would keep them from entering into the mainstream of Israel's society. After all, many of these men were usually transients who would take any job they could find just to work. Some would have been former landowners who lost their land for one reason or another and thus many Jews considered them to be of questionable character because God surely punished them for some untold sin they had committed.

Many of these men would also be away from their families for months at a time, and it was considered foolish and dishonorable to leave your family for extended periods. The shepherds were also considered religious outcasts and barred from entering the Temple because their odd hours prevented them from obeying the religious ceremonies. Under the Mosaic Law, every Jewish male was required to attend three feasts a year, the Passover, the Pentecost, and the Feast of the Tabernacle. Like the blind, the lame, and the lepers, shepherds were considered unclean. If a crime was committed, the first ones suspected were the unsavory shepherds whom no one knew much about. Consider what Rabbi Meir wrote in the Jewish Mishnah about the Jewish views on trade, tradesmen, and the trades Guilds;
Abba Gurjan of Zadjan said, "In name of Abba Gurja. Let not a man bring up his son to be a donkey-driver, nor a camel-driver, nor a barber, nor a sailor nor a shepherd, nor a peddler; for their occupations are those of thieves"
In today's world we would lump these individuals into the same category as we do the migrant farm workers, carnival workers, or even the down and out individuals standing on the corner carrying signs that read, "Will Work for Food". Yup, these are the kinds of unsavory characters respectable Jews would have nothing to do with, so you would think that shepherds would be the last ones God would send His angels to inform about the birth of His Son. However, when you consider what God sent His Son to do, it makes perfect sense for Him to notify those of low station like the shepherds. After all, consider these three statements by Jesus; the first was directed towards the Pharisees who questioned why He would dare hang out with sinners and tax collectors.
"Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance." Mark 2:17
The second statement was directed to those who complained when Jesus went into the house of Zaccheus, a chief tax collector in Jericho who had made his living by charging exuberant taxes from his fellow Jews. However, after spending some time with Jesus, he told the crowd that he was returning that which he had unjustly taken from his fellow man. Jesus then said of his change of heart,
"Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost." Luke 19:10
Finally, the third statement by Christ is from a conversation He had one evening with Nicodemus, a leading teacher for the people of Israel. John 3:14-16
"For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life." John 3:16
The twenty five words of John 3:16, convey the Lord's heart, the Lord's plan, and the lord's will for our lives. No Scripture in the Bible defines Christianity better then this verse does, and it is this passage that makes the first two statements I offered so profound. Together as a whole, these three statements explain why the shepherds were notified instead of King Herod, the High Priest, or the leading citizens of the community. The wealthy and powerful were more interested in getting Him out of their way, whereas the lost, the sick, and the hopeless would be attracted to him and His message of eternal salvation. It would be the hopeless He came to give hope to, the sick He came to heal, and the lost He came to find. So it only makes sense that God would send His angels to bring the good news to those whom His Son would eventually shepherd.

One morning a little over 2015 yrs ago, a child was born to a virgin. The manger in which he lay was of a little town where the lambs to be sacrificed at the Temple roamed the countryside. How fitting it was that the very misfits who tended the sheep for the Temple would be the first ones, other than His earthly parents, to see and greet the Lamb of God who would one day be sacrificed for the sins of the world.

I pray that those who have ears to hear will hear His voice and call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen

Merry Christmas from Chuck Ness

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