That’s a Leon

One of the earliest names of God is seen in Genesis 49.  Jacob is blessing Joseph and says:

“By the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob
    (from there is the Shepherd, the Stone of Israel),
25 by the God of your father who will help you,
    by the Almighty who will bless you
    with blessings of heaven above, ….”

God is known by many attributes and titles but this earliest one tells us that Jacob knew this Shepherd was a God who comes near, a God who shows up to help, an Almighty who blesses and Jacob was aware somehow that blessings – they come from Heaven above.

Fast forward several generations.

This  occurrence will be at the beginning of the New Covenant writings. Shepherds, working under the cover of stars and darkness. Sheep are everywhere and then …. A sign appears in the sky. Why Shepherds? Shepherds are people of action. While sheep are resting by the still waters, Shepherds are running around making sure the setting is conducive to rest. They are less emotional types and more protective types. One pastor recently pointed out that shepherds were low on the social rung and not even allowed to testify in court. I’m not sure why but they were hired hands so they could not be impartial while owing a debt to a wealthy farmer. Their loyalty had to be with the sheep. They probably were not very tactful as they their time in conversation with fluffy friends.

Sheep were often people’s pets, not just sources of wool, meat or milk. They represented wealth because each flock could have up to 100 sheep in it. Shepherding was not for the faint-hearted. According to the International Standard Bible Dictionary (ISBD) shepherding was not done in isolation as relatives stepped in to help and under-shepherds were hired to support the whole process. It took a group of people to navigate all the things that needed to be done.

These rough shepherds could gut a sheep or help birth a lamb and be home for supper. They often looked down at the grass to make sure it was edible; they looked down at the path to make sure it was free of holes and rocks. They looked down at the water to make sure it was still. They were paid to notice the idiosyncrasies of each lamb. They didn’t wear snake skin shoes. No one stood up when they walked in the room. Herding, feeding, shearing and grazing were their daily activities. They were a messy bunch, not perfect in any sense. Although they had times to rest when the sheep did, they were people of continual work.  It makes one wonder, why didn’t God first show a sign to the wise men? Or even the priests? They were fancy, cultured and educated, wore great hats…

Maybe God wanted to be there for the ones who did a job He loved.  Maybe watching and waiting was God’s main goal for His flock rather than being just being wise.

Maybe “wise” is watching and waiting. Seems opposite of what the culture teaches us today.

Rough hands, tender hearts. Sheep have to be constantly monitored. Their horns are resources – they hold oil. There were no plastic companies producing containers or Tupperware back then.  They used hollowed out sheep horns. Horns were also used for instruments of worship. Without these elements, the religious life would suffer. But the use of these horns as “resources” would come at a cost, a cost the shepherds would see firsthand. Shepherds were necessary, uncelebrated, hardworking and faithful.

One Christmas when I was in high school someone gave me a stuffed puppy. He had on a Santa hat with his name printed on the top. I was so thrilled to get that thing. “Hey look this dog – his name is Leon.” They just thought it was what I chose to name him. We laughed when we realized later that I had read it too fast – it said NOEL. In my excitement, I had read it backwards.

There are many things this season that are just backwards – the calendar, the festival, and the traditions. We celebrate a melting pot of things in December. This nativity setting also has a mixture of prophecies, cultures and expectations. We see an unbelievably awesome sign being shown to those who no one would ever believe. That seems backwards. But God believed them and they continued to work whether people clapped or didn’t. Backwards is — dumb sheep and uneducated shepherds receiving the wisest message ever told about the wisest person who ever lived. That’s trust. It’s wise being defined as “those who follow the Shepherd” and dumb being defined as “those who refuse”. That’s fried ice! It’s a mobile station! That’s a Leon.

It’s also people in church wearing their Temple attire but not aware of the God watching over the Temple. It’s priests praying to a God they no longer trust. Control and trust are opposite things.  It’s people sacrificing greatly but never enjoying the sacrifice or the one they present it to. We heard recently of a national leader who took his own life. He went from minister to murderer and the cost of his sacrifice was exponential for his family. His sacrifice had become greater in his eyes than the One he sacrificed to. When did the flow of John 15 cease in his life and did anyone notice? He decided the permanent solution was wiser than the prayer of repentance for getting disconnected. That’s a Leon. It’s backwards – opposite of God’s heart and will for someone’s life.  If you are headed in that direction, slow down, meditate on John 10:10 and call someone today. That thinking is backwards and opposite of the meaning of Noel – Christmas when Emmanuel HIMSELF came to be with us and help us. He gave His whole life so you would not be alone – what a gift!

We can look at something for so long that all we see is a blur and our focus gets on our work instead of the finished work of Christ. 

Ministry as an outflow of abiding brings joy. Ministry that hurts family or ministers – that’s a Leon. It’s backwards. It looks right at first glance but it is opposite of the loving God who wants to bless, help and pour out His heart from Heaven. Business as usual does not equal God’s blessings. Seeking Him and seeing Him does.

While all the regular folk were singing to God that night the Shepherds were enjoying a Royal concert out in the field. They had front row seats because these were the guests of the Prince being born. Maybe God was looking to display His sign to the church folks? Maybe He couldn’t find a single robed believer who would look up? “Gabriel, try that hill over there”. “Those guys aren’t too busy to look for Me”. They may seem like stargazers to you, but they are AVAILABLE to ME. I’m looking for vessels to carry this message to Mary and Joseph – nothing fancy required. In fact, it’s critical nothing extra is added. Just meat and potatoes style.  (Maybe God also suggested they send a wool comforter and lambs bottle with them. Mary might need some help – a Messianic baby shower. Scripture does not say this but compassion certainly does.)

When we can’t see God, when we can’t feel Him, when we can’t hear him….  We can always rely on His compassion and unfailing love, it is who He is. So where do we see or hear Him  in the fields that night? Maybe God opened the portal of Heaven for the angels to sing because God had listened to the Shepherds sweet songs night after night. God is most definitely a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. Isaiah 65:24 says, “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear.

The wise men would not get to see the sign or baby until much later. So why shepherds abiding in the field? Maybe because:

 God sent Jesus not to impress us, but to save us. 

He was going to entrust His little lamb, His only son into the hands of a very cruel world. These sheep fields contained the best lambs in the world. Maybe God hoped His little lamb would get world class care, tender songs and that this bunch would see the value of this lamb. They were also the finest lambs in the world, known for their black shiny coats and perfection for sacrifice. Being born in this geographical location was no accident. It was prophecy.

Were these tough, rough shepherds who saw the sign in the sky the first ones to confirm to Mary the destiny of her son? Did the pieces of the puzzle of Joseph’s dreams make sense when they came and told them about their occupation? Did the shepherds know they were prophetic messengers? The Angels singing in the sky alerted the Shepherds. The babe in the manger alerts us that there’s a new Voice in town, better than all other idols or talents – One we need to hear. (Hebrews 1). We can’t afford to get these things backward– His values, directions or signs.

Christmas is not a celebration for just presents and good cheer. It’s a time or remembrance, a reminder that Heaven is near. It is a clarion call to look for the windows of Heaven to once again open, for those waiting to draw near. For those listening, watching and waiting…  for those wise enough to look  UP and follow…. Soon and very soon we ARE going to see the King!