… the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” Luke 2:15b
Luke’s story of the birth of Jesus is familiar to all Christians. In this story, there is a clear connection between the shepherds living in the fields and Jesus who was lying in a manger. Many sermons have focused on the low social status of the shepherds and the importance of their having been chosen as the first to learn of the Messiah’s birth.
During our pilgrimage to Israel last March, we had the opportunity to visit a hill near Bethlehem that is typical of the hills where shepherds lived and tended their sheep. On the side of the hill, our group of about 30 people entered a cave that had been enlarged by its owners many centuries earlier and we listened to a devotional based upon Luke 2. Such caves are very common in this part of Israel and were used by those who could not afford a house. Shepherds also used such caves for shelter from the elements and for safety from predators such as wolves and, of course, thieves. The shepherds shared these caves with sheep, especially the most vulnerable, like pregnant ewes or lambs.
Later in our pilgrimage, we visited a cave in Bethlehem. Being in the village, this cave probably had a house built over it or next to it not unlike an attached garage in modern America. This house might have been an inn, the bed & breakfast of its time. In any case, it is a very old cave and along one wall of the cave is a piece of built-in furniture – a manger, or trough, for watering and feeding the animals that were kept in the cave. Such a hewn manger is likely to have been where Mary chose to lay her precious son.
Since visiting the caves of Bethlehem, I have a clearer understanding of the events on that amazing night. The shepherds were led by the angels’ message to leave their humble dwelling and go to another humble dwelling. There they found exactly what the angels had announced: Jesus, the Messiah, wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger. The important point is that Jesus’ identity was revealed solely by God reaching out to the shepherds and leading them to his Son. The miracle is that God is still reaching out to us and leading us to his Son.
Prayer: Dear God, We thank you for your prevenient grace that finds us wherever we are and leads us to your Son, Jesus, the Messiah. Amen.