Has the Christmas story about the shepherds “keeping watch over their flock by night” become boringly time-worn for you?
Yep. You just began to yawn at the mention of this familiar story, didn’t you?
Common things can lose their emotional carbonation and seem flat. This makes sense because God created us as curious children with a hunger for fresh surprises.
Join me as we pick this shepherd story back up and shake it a few times like a snow globe.
The Spirit often surprises us when we meditate on and engage His living Word.
- In Luke’s famous narrative he doesn’t even mention the names of the shepherds.
This is significant because our specific name is a powerful identity marker.
Think back to the last time someone miss-pronounced your name. Did it irk you? Even a little bit? You probably corrected them so that they identified you correctly in the future.
What exactly is an identity and how do the un-named shepherds help us to find our true name?
Our identity consists of two interlaced strands.
- The first strand is our persistent personality that remains the same regardless of the circumstances. It is our durable core.
- The second strand is our sense of value and worth bestowed on us from others. You did not and cannot name yourself. You cannot affirm yourself either. Remember, we are all children of God. Children cannot name themselves.
Let’s glance back at the shepherd story found in Luke chapter 2.
First notice that the shepherds were identified primarily by what they did, not for who they were.
A shepherd is a person who does something with sheep. He or she cares for sheep.
That is true as far as it goes, but it does not go far enough.
In the Jewish culture a shepherd occupied the lowest rung on the social ladder. The rabbis did not allow them to be a witness in court, because all shepherds were seen as suspicious, lying thieves.
Have you ever wondered why the shepherds reacted with terror when the angel spoke and light shone all around them? Usually we become less scared when the lights come on. For the shepherds, they knew that their lives were littered with sinful, shameful deeds and the light revealed their blemishes and brokenness.
Does God look at you and identify you primarily with the sin you did in the past? It can feel that way at first. We want to hide and turn off the light of God’s holiness.
When we look back on the lily-pad path of our life, we wince at the memories of all of the wrong things we hopped onto and into to give us a sense of identity and we are ashamed.
But remember that the angel said “Fear Not…God is at peace with all those with whom he favors.”
Don’t miss this. God first favors you, in Christ, and views you as worthy in His sight even while you retain a rotten record.
This is joyfully great news. Your identity is not primarily related to your doing but instead to God’s doing. God finds favor in the birth, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and sees you, in Christ, as pleasing in His sight.
Someone once said “Such as a man’s love is, such is the man.” The shepherds knew that their constant self-love, manifested by their criminal activity, exposed their identity as sinners.
But in this story of the shepherds we find that such as a man is loved, such is the man.
We see God loving them for who they were in his sight rather than through the lens of their dirty doings.
Secondly, the unnamed shepherds were freed from having to create a false, fleeting identity.
Instead of feeling sorry for these shepherds without names, what if Luke was pointing out how freeing it is to live in God’s favor instead of a false identity; a false name?
Here’s what I mean.
Imagine a deck of cards. Picture each card as an identity marker.
We often think that our family, friends, fitness, finances or fun ultimately identify our essential, durable core.
But like cards in a deck, any of these false identity markers that make it to the top of the deck may get reshuffled at any time through underperformance or circumstances that we cannot control.
If you think your financial status defines you, what if you lose most of your money and have to lower your standard of living? Did the real you disappear?
Of course not. Something you placed at the top the deck was shuffled lower and yet you remain the same person.
The December 2015 issue of The Atlantic has this cover article: “The Silicon Valley Suicides. Why are so Many Kids With Bright Prospects Killing Themselves In Palo Alto?” The reporter explains that performancism (stressing your performance in sports, academics, looks, fashion etc.) was a possible trigger behind these suicides.
There is a lot of pressure to remain at the top as a student, and the anxiety involved in maintaining that perched position can be excruciating.
These teens saw their ultimate identity through the lens of their performance and chose to die instead of remain on the hamster wheel of hopeless exhaustion.
Instead of working to be seen, the unnamed shepherds were seen by God ultimately as favored sons and daughters.
Their essential identity as a favored family member was placed at the top of the deck by God.
When God looks at those that place their trust in Christ, He sees us through the identity of Christ.
And surprise!! We experience the two strands of identity: Our unique personality persists despite our doings AND we are named as forgiven, favorable family members.
Thanks for shaking the snow globe of Scripture.
Metro North Church