“I made a mistake” and “I have a confession to make” are both excellent “hook” sentences which writers occasionally use to get their readers’ “curiosity” juices flowing and want to read more (no matter how long the writing is). In my last post, I made a confession. In this post, I want to admit to making a mistake (or two or three). First, I mistakenly called Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip the parents of Prince William of England. Of course, they are the grandparents and Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana are the parents of Prince William (I did make the correction for future readers of my blog). I do humbly apologize, especially to those with British roots. I even knew who Prince William‘s parents are. Perhaps I made the mistake because I really don’t like Prince Charles all that much. Also, in my post regarding the Prophecy Candle, I may have made a few Scripture reference mistakes. For example, Psalm 110 does not have a verse 10 because it only has seven verses. I meant to type Psalm 110:1, which foretold of Jesus being “seated at God’s Right Hand” and Matthew 22:44 and Hebrews 10:12-13 state the fulfillment of this prophesy. If I made other mistakes in Scripture references, please let me know, if you wish, and I will send you the correct reference(s).
One time, when Nelson Mandela was called a saint, he replied, “If by ‘saint’ you mean a sinner who keeps trying, then yes, I am a saint.” Some people say that I am a good writer. I humbly thank you for this “crazy generous” compliment. If by “writer” you mean someone who is able to express her ideas through her creative writing, despite her numerous typos and occasional errors regarding certain facts, but keeps on trying to produce a piece of writing without any typos or other critical errors, then yes, I am a good writer (in progress). I am thankful to the Lord for my gracious and patient blog “followers” who keep reading my LONG posts and gently ignore my mistakes and say, “I knew what you meant.” Thank you very much! (However, I do welcome corrections and other constructive criticism.) Nelson Mandela was one of the greatest men who ever lived. He was a political activist and he ended Apartheid in South Africa and became president. Nelson Mandela was also a great man of the Christian Faith. He often talked about how he took strength, during his twenty-seven-year imprisonment, by reading the biblical account of Joseph’s imprisonment, in Genesis 37-50. Nelson Mandela was a brother in Christ who knew how to fight for what was right and knew how to forgive because he knew the forgiveness of God through Christ. From a human standpoint, few people can ever hope to fill Nelson Mandela’s shoes but, as brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all have the same spiritual status (See Galatians 3:28) and I believe Nelson Mandela would wholeheartedly agree.
Speaking about mistakes, did you ever think God makes mistakes? For instance, take the Christmas Story: God handpicked a young, poor peasant girl, named Mary, to become the mother of His One and Only Begotten Son Who would save the world from sin. God handpicked a poor peasant carpenter, named Joseph, to merry Mary, while she was already pregnant with God’s Son – the same man who was thinking about quietly “calling the whole thing off“, but was convinced by an angel not to. Then, God arranged it so that Joseph and Mary had to take a four-to-six-day journey to a little town called Bethlehem, while Mary was nine-months pregnant, in order for God’s Son Jesus to be born in Bethlehem, in a cattle stall. To top it all off, God sends His angels out to a bunch of shepherds to be the first ones to witness and welcome the Savior of the world to the world at His birth. All this does not make any worldly sense. Could it be because we do not know all the heavenly details God knows?
During the Third Week of Advent, the two previous purple Prophesy and Bethlehem Candles are lit on the Advent Wreath, in addition to the rose colored Shepherd’s Candle. The “Advent-ure” continues like this:
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you GOOD NEWS of GREAT JOY that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: You will find a Baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly a great company of heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom His favor rests.’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the Baby, who was lying in a manger. When they had seen Him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this Child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. Thee shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told” (Luke 2:8-20).
Can you imagine what it would have been like to be one of the shepherds? Think of the brightest night sky you have ever seen. People have told me about the magnificence of the Aurora Borealis, in the Alaskan winter sky. The sky that the shepherds experienced on that Holy Night must have been brighter still. Think of the time when you were filled with the greatest joy in your life. Maybe it was the time you got married or had a baby, or the time you graduated from college or got your dream job, or the time you learned you or a loved one was cancer-free, or the time the RED SOX won the 2004 World Series Championship after an eighty-six-year “drought” (The first time was more glorious than the ones in ’07 and ’13). Your happiest time filled with “busting-at-the-seems” joy cannot compare with “THE GOOD NEWS OF GREAT JOY” the angel brought to the shepherds on that Holy Night. A pastor I know explained the “great joy” the shepherds experienced can be described as “MEGA-JOY!” It is the joy that makes me free from sin and shame and makes me the child of the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is the MEGA-JOY that tells me death longer has a grip on me and this aging body will one day be transformed into a new body without pain or sorrow or dread. “For now we know in part [just as the shepherds did, only we know a little more]…but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears…Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known” (I Corinthians 13:9a, 12).
But why shepherds? Why didn’t God choose kings and princes and the religious leaders of that day to witness and welcome His Only Begotten Son, the Savior of the world, into their world? We learn from Scripture that both King Herod and the religious leaders of that day were drunk with power and control. When King Herod learns that another king is born “he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years and under” (Matthew 2:16), which fulfilled a prophecy in Jeremiah 31:15. Before Jesus could be killed, an angel appeared to Joseph in a dream and told him to take Jesus and Mary to Egypt (Matthew 2:13-15), which fulfilled another prophecy in Hosea (11:1). Before then, three Magi came to Herod to inquire about Jesus’ birth (See Matthew 2:1-12). Because Jesus was born in Bethlehem, I believe Herod chose not to go along with the Magi because it was too long of a long trip, but waited to hear about their findings (Interesting!). Later on, in Matthew 23, Jesus calls out the Pharisees and teachers of the law for abusing their power, in the “Seven Woes” by saying things like, “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them” (v. 4). Later on, in all four Gospels, we learn that the religious leaders of the day were all conspiring to kill Jesus. They were not interested in the things of God, but only their own honor, power and control over the people they were meant to shepherd and care for.
But why shepherds? In those days, shepherds were at the bottom of the social ladder in Palestine. In the beginning of the Bible, shepherding was an honored profession (Genesis 4:20; 30:29; 37:12; Exodus 2:16). It was only after the Hebrews migrated to Egypt that shepherding got a bad name. Egyptians were farmers and the Arabs, who were their enemy, were shepherds. In Genesis 46:34, Joseph warns his brothers, “Every shepherd is detestable to the Egyptians.” Shepherding goats and sheep meant their farmland was taken away and their crops would be diminished. Somehow, the disdain and prejudice against shepherds stuck with the Hebrews through the centuries. As in all forms of bigotry, religious snobbery and class prejudice, hatred toward shepherds grew without any rhyme or reason – It was just how people always felt about that people group. The religious leaders, in Jesus’ day, hated shepherds most of all. Religious leaders banned pasturing sheep and goats in Israel, except in the dessert. They called shepherds “incompetent” and “untrustworthy” and considered them “second-class” and labeled them as “sinners.” Shepherds were deprived of their civil rights and could not hold judicial offices or be admitted in court as witnesses. Jeremias (a writer who lived in the 6th Century, B.C.) wrote, “The rabbis ask with amazement how, in view of the despicable nature of shepherds, one can explain why God was called ‘my shepherd’ in Psalm 23:1.” (The information in this paragraph is from “Shepherd Status,” by Randy Alcorn, in “Come Thou Long-Expected Jus, Nancy Guthrie, Editor [Wheaton Illinois: Crossway Books, 2008] pp. 85-89.)
As I worked on the paragraph above, a song from the musical “Oklahoma,” by Rodgers and Hammerstein, popped into my head:
The Farmer and the Cowboy
The farmer and the cowboy should be friends.
Oh, the farmer and the cowboy should be friends.
One man likes to push a plough, the other likes to chase a cow.
But that’s no reason why they can’t be friends.
Isn’t that basically it? All God’s children should be friends, if God’s Kingdom is #1 on our priority list, just as “Territory folks should stick together“ in order for Oklahoma to become the 46th state of the United States. But, how do we make God’s Kingdom #1 priority in our lives when we make ourselves #1 and are only interested in having our own way and keeping our own power and control in tact? God tells us how to make His Kingdom #1 in Micah 6:8: “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and the walk humbly with your God.” And God shows us how this is done through the life of His One and Only Begotten Son: “The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, Who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Jesus is the epitome of humility. He told His disciples, “…You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them [the lower class], and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25b-28). Jesus also says in John 6:38 and 40, “For I have come down from heaven not to do My will but to do the will of Him Who sent Me…For the Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”
Jesus Christ, our Immanuel (God with us), came down from heaven, down to our level, in order to raise us up to His. John 1:1-2 tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.” II Corinthians 4:6 teaches us, “For God, Who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made His light shine in our hearts to give us the light of knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.” Philippians 2:6-8 informs us about Christ, “Who, being in the very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death of a cross!” Colossians 2:9-10 instructs us, “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, Who is the Head over every power and authority.”
Jesus Christ not only became one of us, He was one of us. He lived with us, ate with us, cried with us, rejoiced with us; He related with us and became our friend. Someone once wrote the Jesus is our “Stooping God.” It makes sense that our “Stooping God” lived with the poor peasants an d identified with the lowly shepherds, so much so, that He became our Good Shepherd. How awesome is that?!
“The LORD is exalted over all the nations, His glory above the heavens. Who is like the LORD our God, the One Who sits enthroned on high, Who STOOPS down to look on the heavens and the earth? He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap; He sits them with princes, with princes of their people” (Psalm 113:4-7).
“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep…I am the Good Shepherd; I know My sheep and My sheep know Me – just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father – and I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. The two will listen to My voice, and there shall be one flock and One Shepherd” (John 10:11, 14-16).
“And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away…Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s Mighty Hand, that He may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you” (I Peter 5:”4, 6-7).
The following Scripture and Hymn is my prayer for all of us. As did the shepherds long ago, let us go to Bethlehem and see the GOOD NEWS and MEGA-JOY that Christ’s birth brings to all who believe.
“May the God of peace, Who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen” (Hebrews 13:20-21)
Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us
By Dorothy A. Thrupp
(Stanzas 1 and 2)
Savior, like a shepherd lead us, Much we need Thy tender care;
In Thy pleasant pastures feed us, For our use Thy folds prepare:
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, Thou hast bought us, Thine we are;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, Thou hast bought us, Thine we are.
We are Thine; do Thou befriend us, Be the Guardian of our way;
Keep Thy flock, from sin defend us, Seek us when we go astray:
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, Hear, O hear us when we pray;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, Hear, O hear us when we pray.
This Sunday is the fourth Sunday in Advent. Along with the two purple Prophecy and Bethlehem Candles and the rose-colored Shepherd’s Candle, the purple Angel’s Candle will be lit on the Advent Wreath. Please read John 3:16-21 and Revelation 21:1-6 and 22:7, 12-17, 20-21.
Christmas Blessings to All,