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A Shepherd’s Tale by Gary Robbins

If a reporter had invited one of the shepherds to share his story the day after Jesus’ birth, maybe, just maybe, it would have sounded something like this:

If you’ve ever felt like a nobody…

If you’ve ever received “the glare” that says, “You don’t belong here”…

If you’ve ever read contempt on another person’s face…

Then you know what my life feels like as a shepherd.

There was a time in my people’s history when every family raised sheep and goats, when we wandered gypsy-like over the foothills of Judea struggling to provide for our flocks.  Shepherds were seen as models of courageous leadership and compassionate care.  But that day was long, long ago.

Things changed when people moved into towns to become merchants and shopkeepers, scribes and priests.  Religious leaders began to group us with gamblers, tax collectors, and loan sharks.  Town folk lumped us together with the sad souls who collected dung in the villages and the tanners who smelled of feces and urine.  We were accused of pasturing our flocks on other people’s land, under-reporting the number of lambs born in lambing season, and pilfering the sheep under our care.  As outrageous as it seems, no judge would accept our testimony in court.

It hurts to be treated as a swindler and cheat.  The sting of contempt and derision can make nights long—and bitter.

And that’s part of what made that one extraordinary night so incredible—and so life-changing!

We had divided up the watches of the night.  I had sat for hours listening for thieves and predators.  Suddenly, a brilliant light filled the night sky.

Terror gripped my heart!  My knees buckled!  Startled from their sleep, my fellow shepherds scrambled for cover.

“Be still!,” the angel said.  “Don’t be afraid.”

“Hear this imperial proclamation, a proclamation not for the privileged few, but for you and all humankind:  Today, in the village of your father David, a Savior was born — God’s Anointed.”

“And by this you will know that I have spoken truthfully:  you will find the newborn swaddled in cloth and lying in a feeding trough.”

It was staggering, overwhelming—and puzzling.  Once or twice in my life I had heard royal heralds announce the birth of a prince or the enthronement of king—but a proclamation from the very throne of Heaven?

“And what kind of princeling,” I thought, “is placed in a cattle trough like a bucket of grain or an armful of hay?”

A moment later, without warning, the whole sky was filled with angel wings.

“Glory to God, in the very highest of the heavens,” they sang,

“and on earth, the shalom of God

to all the beneficiaries of God’s favor.”

And as quickly as the angels appeared, they were gone, leaving only stillness—and the pounding of our hearts.

It took less than a half an hour for us to rush to Bethlehem.  We found a tired, exhausted teen—just about the age of my own granddaughter—and her drained husband.  And there—right beside his mother—a newborn infant, wrapped in narrow strips of cloth and lying in a feeding trough!

Every detail, just as the angel had said!

The events of the night cascaded from our mouths in breathless sentences.  The mother listened deeply, turning every word over and over in her heart as if each were an important piece of a puzzle.

Then, like the breaking of dawn, the enormity of all that had happened flooded my own soul and my heart took flight.  I suddenly realized that it didn’t matter who sat on human thrones.  It didn’t matter how big their armies or how extravagant their titles.  Something world-shattering had happened—something that made all human pretensions and posturings laughable.  God’s regent, God’s Anointed, had made his home in a place as poor and unassuming as any that could be imagined and, from there, he promised to remake everything.

And what was equally amazing to me, in God’s kindness and grace he had announce it all—not to Temple priests or village rabbis, not to palace bureaucrats or Roman officers, not to wealthy merchants or privileged landowners—but to me, a “nobody,” and to all of the other “nobodies” with me that night.

For the first time in a long, long time, a song filled my heart.  The other shepherds and I left that unpretentious stable, singing praises to God at the top of our voices.  I knew that God had changed me that night and that I would never be the same.

And grander still, I knew—in a way I could never fully explain—that from a rough-hewn feeding trough God had changed all of human history … Forever!

Gary Robbins is the senior pastor at Greene Memorial United Methodist Church in Roanoke. Visit them on the web at

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