Daily Meditations

Figures of the Nativity—The Shepherds

By Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis, December 5, 2018

No parent in Bethlehem two thousand years ago hoped that their child would grow up to be a shepherd. Being a shepherd was a dangerous, lonely and nomadic life. It was dangerous, because sheep were often prey for wolves and other dangerous animals. Shepherds were armed with staffs, not guns, and could easily be hurt or worse by animals preying on the sheep. Shepherds had to be on guard, especially at night, when they would have to sleep with one eye open to keep the flock safe. Being a shepherd was lonely. It was one shepherd to one hundred sheep. This didn’t leave a lot of time for socializing. If a few flocks were together, it would be a few hundred sheep to a few shepherds. This didn’t provide for much of a social life. There certainly weren’t any vacations for the shepherds. And shepherds were nomadic—they moved their flocks to where they could find food. They didn’t own homes, host dinner parties, or enjoy lazy afternoons with the family. And at the time of the census, these men weren’t even in the city to be counted, that’s how unimportant they were.

Yet, the angels brought the message of the Nativity to the shepherds. Why? Because they were faithful, and they were ready to hear it. Bethlehem was too busy. The crowds were too distracted. The faithful and vigilant shepherds were in a place of quiet and solitude where they would have noticed the angels.

Like the shepherds, we all have a flock. For some of us, our flock includes a spouse, children, friends, co-workers, fellow church members, clients, or patients. Some of us might wish we had a different flock—maybe we wish had more children, or less. Maybe we wish we had a different job, more friends, better neighbors. Just like I’m sure the shepherds probably wished they had taken a different job. Probably some were wishing they were in a warm house in Bethlehem rather than sitting in the cold night of the countryside. The shepherds were faithful in their duty, faithful to their flock. We are supposed to do the same with our “flock.” God honored the shepherds by giving them the gift to be the first to see the Christ. God honors those who are faithful to their flocks. If the second greatest commandment is to love our neighbors, then we honor God by honoring others. We honor God by being faithful to our “flock.” And God in turn will honor us by showing us His glory in the Kingdom of heaven.

Luke 2:20 has become one of my favorite Bible verses. It reminds us that after seeing the Christ, “the shepherds returned.” They returned to being shepherds. Seeing Christ didn’t change their socio-economic status. It didn’t get them more friends, or make them less nomadic or make their job less dangerous. It did, however, change them. It changed their hearts. Because they now knew God. They returned “glorifying and praising God” which I would venture to say led to a more purposeful and God-centered life.

One frustrating thing about the Christmas season is how it ends. We take down our decorations, almost breathing a sigh of relief that Christmas is over. On December 26, we will go back to the same jobs, the same challenges, the same lives. Christmas won’t change those things. But Christmas can change us. Christ can change us. Just like the experience of Christ changed the shepherds because it changed their hearts. The challenge for us is are our hearts open to change? Do we look for encounters with Christ, and do we allow those encounters to change us?

When we were young and went to school, we did so because we had no choice. We did, of course, have a choice to learn or not. As we get older, and school is not compulsory anymore, it is up to us to seek out opportunities to learn, whether that means taking a class or reading a book. And if we seek an opportunity to learn, who isn’t going to take advantage and actually learn? Christ continually gives us opportunities to learn about Him. Many of us belong to a church. Are we open to learning? Are we open to a message that changes us for the better? When we hear a message, do we refine our lives to reflect what we’ve heard? The message of Christ can’t get me a different career necessarily, but it can make me more purposeful in the career I have. The message of Christ won’t materially or financially change us. But most certainly it can change our hearts.

You righteous, be glad in heart; and the heavens, be exultant. Leap for joy, O mountains, at the birth of the Messiah. Resembling the Cherubim, the Virgin Maiden is seated and hold in her embraces God the Logos incarnate. The shepherds glorify the newborn Babe; Magi bring the Master their precious gifts. Angels are singing hymns of praise and said “O Lord, incomprehensible, glory to You.” (Praises from the Orthros of the Nativity, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes) 

The lesson of the shepherds: The shepherds were faithful to their flocks and in turn God honored them by inviting them to be the first to see Christ. This encounter didn’t change their socioeconomic status, but it changed them. God offers us the same invitation to know Christ. It is up to us to answer and go. And it is up to us to open ourselves to a message that won’t change what is in our wallets but can most certainly change what is in our hearts.

+Fr. Stavros

~Fr. Stavros Akrotirianakis, St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church, Tampa, FL, http://greekorthodoxchurchtampa.com/.