What do you think the Bethlehem shepherds talked about during the long evenings around their campfire watching sheep in the Judean hills? For most of Israel’s history, shepherding had been a respected profession. King David had been a shepherd and Scripture called God, “Shepherd of Israel.” However, by Jesus’ time, shepherds had a reputation for dishonesty. In a society that lived under crushing oppression from Roman occupiers, shepherds were among the poorest and most exploited people. They were inclined to cause trouble. At least one shepherd led an insurgency against Roman oppressors and Jewish religious corruption.1 Considering the mess that their world was in, it is no wonder that a band of shepherds grabbed their staffs and ran to investigate the nativity angel’s news of “a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” (Luke 2:11). Could this be the one? ((Adapted from: The Name Quest – explore the names of God to grow in faith and get to know Him better, by John Avery, Morgan James Publishing, 2015. Used with permission.))
Arriving at an inn with a “No Vacancy” sign and then being directed around the back to some kind of livestock shelter must have dulled their hopes. Surely the baby lying in that dusty manger could have nothing to do with the angelic message! Shepherds were men of action; they wanted someone to knock some sense into society, and they wanted it now.
At about the same time a small group of eastern astronomers was meandering toward the Judean hills. They had seen a portent in the night sky; the sign of a royal birth in Israel. These men needed less explanation.
Who are the equivalent of the Bethlehem shepherds and the magi today?
Modern “wise men” are the seekers of spiritual truth. They might not be using the right methods or looking in the correct places but at least they know there is truth to be found. The fumbled explanation by King Herod’s priestly advisors was enough to set the magi on the path to Bethlehem.
Today’s shepherds still seek change in society because they see injustice and impurity. They dream of fixing it, but lack the resources to do it properly. Any attempts made in their own strength and based on their half-baked ideas will probably get them in trouble. Spiritual things seem foreign to these practical people. An encounter with heavenly messengers can jolt them into a new way of thinking about revolution–a new goal, with new methods.
Watch out for shepherds and astronomers. Be ready to explain what the stars that they follow really point to and what the greatest kingdom looks like.
- Athronges, a self-appointed messiah of the time, had been a shepherd. [↩]