If you were to place yourself in the role of any Christmas character, who would you be? Definitely, growing up, my first answer would have been the little drummer boy. For a long time, it was my favorite Christmas song and I was always a percussionist at heart. These days I would view myself as one of the wise men. I’m not necessarily saying that I am all that wise, but I am a born student and love knowledge and scholarship for its own sake. I could also picture myself as Joseph. I’m not married or a father, but my favorite book in the Old Testament is Hosea so the dilemma Joseph faced in staying with Mary is one I have faced when confronted with the possibility that God might call me to a Gomer. Besides, I am a big proponent of adoption. I could see myself as Zechariah. Still, no kids and I am a couple weeks away from forty. What if I am an old man before an angel finally shows up and says, “Your turn to be a dad.”
The one group I have trouble identifying with are the shepherds. I love visiting the country. I like going on camping trips. I bagged quite a few different peaks. I have done a hike of well over a hundred kilometers. I like going out and spending a day or two in the countryside, but living there? Not a chance. I actually tried it, sort of, for a year. Really, I was only five miles out of town and my neighbors were a few hundred yards (meters) in either direction. Even still, I had a lot of yard that I never mowed, I had hot water that occasionally worked, we had a persistent invasion of field mice we could never conquer no matter how much we cleaned and how many we killed. I’d even wake up to see the occasional wild turkey in my backyard. Miserable, noisy beasts. I am a city boy. If my town has under a million people, it is too small. I might be able to put up with it if there is a decent enough downtown, but I want to have neighbors next to, above, and below me… not a quarter mile away.
beyond that, I was never one for animals. I’ve had some birds and fish as pets but dogs and cats were anathema in my home. Until a few years back I was deathly allergic and my asthma would have killed me. I’m not joking. It was that bad. Put me in a house with a large dog and thirty minutes tops, my lungs would be so constricted I couldn’t finish a sentence without pausing two or three times to pull in more air. My back would begin hurting because of the pressure forced against it because asthma continues to trap more and more air in your expanding lungs. Living with a bunch of sheep. I would have been dead before I was old enough to go to school.
Even today, I have been healed but that does not mean I enjoy animals. They stink. I can go visit a pet owner’s home and know exactly what types of animals they own before I cross the threshold. It does not matter how many air fresheners one uses. It does not matter how diligent they clean. Dogs smell and cats are twice as bad though they are half the size. Even ferrets, gerbils, hamsters… it might not infiltrate the whole house, but it will certainly destroy a room. Pets stink, and sheep? Wow. When I was living in Rochester, we actually would pass by a sheep farm quite frequently. That place did not stink up the whole house, it stunk up the whole community. You could smell that place from a half mile away easily. I feel sorry for one girl in my grade. She actually lived on that farm. I am sure she showered every morning. I am sure she was just as clean as the rest of us. But living in such close proximity to the place meant it seeped into her very clothes. Poor girl.
Poor is right. I was about to type in how shepherds have never been the wealthiest of individuals, but then I remembered that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David were all shepherds. That really is quite an illustrious line up when it comes to Jewish patriarchs and heroes. You would think that shepherding would be considered one of the noblest of professions. I mean, even priests, prophets, and kings wouldn’t be able to boast a better representation in a top ten list of Jewish historical greats. Shepherding is the greatest and most honorable profession in all of Israel… you would think. I guess the intellectual, noble ideal of shepherding cannot overcome the day to day stink.
I wonder if the shepherds out in those hills enjoyed that job? The only “shepherd girl” I ever knew couldn’t stand it and had plans of going off to college and leaving that life behind her. Do you blame her? We have this image of someone lolling about the countryside, playing the flute and writing poetry. At night a few different shepherds would get together to swap stories by the fire. I mean how bad could it possibly be? Maybe it gets a little cold. Maybe you get a little wet. Maybe you are tasked with keeping by your side a bunch of practically blind, stupid, smelly animals who have a penchant for wandering off and who are considered the tastiest and easiest of meals by every single wild animal out there. How hard can it be?
There was nothing special about that night. There was no way they could have known that this evening was going to be any different from the night before. They were out there, faithfully doing their duties when the world changed. Maybe they loved their jobs. Maybe they hated it and dreamed of doing something, anything else. And then…