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'While shepherds watched...'

In a series of Advent articles, Rosemary Dawson picks up on the words of Christmas songs

They had a bad reputation and were despised by society

THERE they were, minding their own business. They were simply shepherds guarding their flocks from dangerous wild animals, and stopping the more adventurous sheep from escaping into the great wide world.

Their animals’ needs took priority. Such work meant that shepherds could not comply with the ceremonial cleansing required by Jewish Law, which prevented them worshipping in the Temple. They had a bad reputation and were despised by society.

Night after night these shepherds stuck to their routine – until the time when a heav­enly choir of angels changed their lives.

‘An angel of the Lord appeared to them,’ the Bible says, ‘and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified’ (Luke 2:9 New International Version). The angel reassured them: he was bringing good news. The long-promised Messiah had been born. They would find him lying in a manger in Bethlehem.

Then the heavenly choir broke into joyful song: ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace’ (Luke 2:14). When they had gone, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened’ (2:15).

God had chosen these simple, hardwork­ing men to be the first to hear the good news about the Messiah – and fittingly, the first to visit the newborn Lamb of God.

The shepherds symbolise the humble in heart who continue to seek and find God, however lowly their circumstances. They had nothing to offer him except themselves.

‘While shepherds watched’, they had time to think and talk about the momentous events happening around them. Time spent around the fire would never be the same again.

However busy we think we are, there is always time for the essential. There may be only 17 days till Christmas. There may be so much to do, so much to arrange.

But if we don’t take the time to remem­ber the reason for the season itself, we are ignoring the most important preparation of all: our acknowledgment of God’s Son.

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