Picture“The Angel Appearing to the Shepherds” by Rembrandt

Posted by Andy Sabaka

This is the third in a series of poems to prepare our hearts for Christmas.
​The fist one on Zechariah can be found here, and the second on Mary is here.

The Shepherds
The shepherds were usually found on the outskirts of King David’s city,
Which most of the residents of Bethlehem preferred, for, you see,
Shepherds were not highly regarded, but rather rejected by those
Who thought themselves better and looked down their nose
At those seen below them – those who smelled of the earth,
Who took care of the rams, as well as the ewes giving birth
To lambs, though the townspeople would need those young sheep
To atone for all the laws they’d each failed to keep.
The shepherds knew little of what happened in town,
So they’d not heard the murmurings going around
About a pregnant young girl and her fiancé who’d arrived
At the doorstep of the town inn, where they’d been promptly denied
A room. “We’re all full,” the innkeeper had wearily relayed,
But he pointed them to a stable where others had stayed –
Those who, also, for the census had come,
And packed in the city as tight as a drum.
The shepherds also did not hear how Mary had cried
At the pains of birth, with Joseph by her side,
Who was almost as scared as his young wife,
Until the moment their baby took his first breath of life.
Then Jesus cried like any other infant, while his parents gazed,
Looking for signs of the promise Gabriel had made.
But nothing miraculous happened – he had no halo of light –
And like most newborn babies, he stayed awake through the night.
Conditions in the stable were certainly not the best,
But Joseph found a manger where their baby could rest.
So the shepherds had not heard the gossip in the town’s streets and alleys
Nor had the sound of Mary’s tears reached into their valley
Yet another sound pierced their silent hillside,
Filling them with fear as their sheep scattered to hide.
In a moment, the night sky ignited like dry branches of pine,
And an angel of the Lord appeared engulfed in rays of sunshine.
He calmed their fears as he proclaimed, “Fear not, for behold,
I bring you good news – the kind of which the prophets foretold.
News for all people. For unto you on this day
Down in David’s city, just a short run away,
A Savior has been born. He is the promised Messiah,
Christ the Lord, the Redeemer, and every nations’ desire.
Now, I give you this sign so you can find where he now lays:
He is wrapped in swaddling cloths, resting in a manger for hay.”
Then suddenly that one angel was joined by innumerable others,
And the heavenly host filled up and then covered
The entire night sky with their heavenly wonder,
And the shepherds heard what first sounded like thunder,
As each angel voiced united, and shouted wildly,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and let there be
Peace on the earth, for God has chosen to bless
And cause his great favor on men and women to rest.”
The angels left as quick as they had arrived
And silence returned to the whole countryside.
Then one shepherd’s voice spoke into the quiet darkness:
“Hurry! Let’s go to Bethlehem and see all of this –
This wonderful thing, this miraculous infant,
That God has chosen to tell us he sent.”
So they ran with haste, ignoring the stares
Of those who wondered why they were there.
Soon they met the baby’s surprised mother and father,
And found  the newborn king, asleep in a manger.
“Just like the angel said,” they reverently whispered,
Bowing before this miracle and mystery.
They told all who would listen to their wonderful story,
Of angels and mangers and the fact that God’s glory
Had come to earth wrapped in humble human flesh,
And that men such as them were the first to bow at his crèche.
So while Mary and Joseph had found no halo around Jesus’ head
God had sent a group of astonished shepherds instead.
And the wonder on their faces and the way that they bowed,
Confirmed Gabriel’s message and reminded Mary how
The Lord had been clear that it was the humble and poor he’d set apart.
And it was these thoughts she turned over, pondering them in her heart.
Let the sweet scent of theses candles remind us how bad we stink,
Just like those poor shepherds, no matter how much we think
We deserve to be invited to meet Christ at the stable.
Instead it’s only grace that calls and enables
Filthy sinners like us to have heavenly insight
Break into the darkness of our faithless night.
Like Mary, let us ponder these wonderful things
That surrounded the miraculous birth of our King.
And like the shepherds, let us run to bow before Jesus,
And then tell everyone who’s wiling to hear us,
That the Savior is born! Salvation is here!
The God of the universe became small and came near.