As I reflect this year on the Christmas story, I'm drawn again and again to one part of it, to one group of cast members. I was lying in bed last night and I could not get them out of my head. I know that their story and mine will bless someone out there this Christmas.
Who came first to the birthplace of the King? In man's eyes they were the lowliest and most unworthy of all the inhabitants living around Bethlehem.
"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 that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:8-12 (NIV)
Shepherds. They were dirty, smelly, and most likely uneducated. As you can imagine, shepherds could not live up to the level of religious purity in the eyes of the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the time. They could not keep the Sabbath the way the law prescribed because sheep needed constant care and attention. Shepherds were set apart from society, had no real influence and basically went unnoticed; they were viewed as the lowest class of people.
If you were going to tell someone some amazing news that would affect all of history, who would you tell? The president? An international news anchor or the queen of England? A Kardashian? Any of them could get the information out to the world—heck a Kardashian could just tweet it for the whole world to know in seconds. You probably would not choose the homeless guy on the corner, the garbage man, or a stay-at-home mom. So why did God choose the shepherds to be the first to hear and spread the news of His precious baby boy's birth?
Shepherds have long played an important role in the bible. Adam was charged with taking care of all of the animals and Abel was a "keeper of sheep." Even the greatest king of Israel, King David, started his life watching over sheep for his father. But overall, one did not grow up saying "Dad, can I be a shepherd when I grow up?"
As a child who was overweight, I can tell you that even though I knew the Lord and went to a Catholic school, I never felt worthy of the love of God. I honestly always felt that if others did not find me worthy of love then God, who knew my inner thoughts and secret sins, definitely could not love me. I guess I saw it the way a child who thinks a parent loves them because they have to, does not necessarily because they do or want to. So I believed that God loved me grudgingly, because He had to. I believed He loved me because I was His child, not because I was worthy of it. So I set about at an early age trying to be the best I could be for Him, to keep His love.
Where do the shepherds fit into all that? I'm sure they felt unworthy of God's love in some ways too. They were imperfect people doing seemingly unimportant work. I am sure they tried to put on a good face when people in town stood away from them because they smelled like sheep. Maybe they felt their worth went down with every day they did not bathe.
I felt like my worth went down with every pound I gained. And so I put on the first mask, the one at the root of all the others, the mask of the happy fat kid. I am trying to deal with this mask by reminding myself daily that I’m not the happy fat kid. I don’t always have to appear happy, and I don’t always have it all together. I believe God now when He says I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength. I open my eyes every morning and remember that I am worthy of love and acceptance, no matter what the scale says. I am STILL worthy. Then the most important step for me is to ask God to give me the strength to live like my worth is not based on my size.
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” Jeremiah 1:5 (NIV)
The shepherds of the Christmas story show us that God can use anyone to share the good news of Jesus Christ, and that we all are worthy of His love. God knew them, like He knew me, like He knows us all, from the womb. The shepherds remind me that even though I am not perfect, I am not well known or socially influential, God loves me and can use me for His good purpose. Just like those shepherds, I can receive God’s message of love and share it.
“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 the 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." Luke 2:15-18 (NIV)
Like the shepherds, we have to believe we are worthy to receive God's message and act on it. They did just not hear the angel’s words and go back to their jobs. They did not just say, "Oh God made a mistake; He doesn't really want us to share in this wonderful thing.” Instead, they hurried to follow the angel’s instructions. They shared the news that the Christ had come. They show us how God delights in using obedient humble people for His glory. God calls some of the most earthly, unworthy, unimportant, sinful people—myself included, to glorify Himself and further His kingdom.
I have accepted and now believe that I am worthy of God’s love. He knew and loved me from the womb, and He had a plan for me since before I was ever born. I always knew it in theory, but now I believe it to my core. That has freed me in so many ways. I rely on God to help me fulfill His purpose for my life and I trust in His love. I know that He wants what is best for me. Instead of trying to implement my own plans to win His love, I now follow His plan and bask in the security of it. How amazing is that!
So as this Christmas comes and goes and a new year starts, I hope you’ll join me in being a shepherd. Be humble, be willing to get dirty for Christ, be open, be joyful, be courageous, and most importantly, believe you are worthy. Believe it despite what the world says, and even when you don’t feel it—because God finds you worthy of the message and plan he has for you. He loves you and wants to do great things through you, just like he did through the shepherds. Remember that during the time they lived it seemed as though they made no real mark on the world. But 2,000 years later we are still talking about them and their impact for Christ. You may not know the full significance of God's plan for your life, but He does. Your actions as a child of God, worthy to carry His message, can have a lasting impact for His kingdom here on earth and in heaven.