I've been thinking about shepherds lately. We're having a Christmas Eve service -- 5 o'clock Thursday, you're all invited -- to sing some hymns and carols, read out of Luke 2 and I'll share a short message. As I read Luke's account of the birth of Christ, I can't help but wonder about the shepherds who saw the angel of the Lord. I've read accounts that 2,000 years ago shepherds were the pickpockets and thieves of the day. The sorry, no-account drifters who were troublemakers and virtually indentured servants. Things haven't changed much, perhaps. I've enclosed a link at the bottom of this post to help you see where I'm going with this thing.
But let me describe the life of a modern-day sheepherder in the barren Wyoming outback, where you might be in charge of a flock of 1,500 or 2,000 sheep: On call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Your home is a 5 x 10 "campito" without running water. Have to go to the bathroom? Here's a shovel. You have no electricity. The searing summer days can hit 100 degrees. On Christmas Day at a sheep camp near Encampment, Wyo., look for a high of 14 degrees, with a low of zero. And snow. Your heat source is a wood stove. It might even work, particularly if you have wood. In addition to no days off, a sheepherder must be able to ride a horse and repair fences. Not to mention guard the flock against predators and poisonous weeds. Not only that, a decent worker should be able to assist in lambing, docking, castrating (Rocky Mountain oysters baby!), dehorning, shearing, vaccinating, drenching and medicating the sheep. Sometimes the work gets a little hairy -- or worse. Wolves are a constant problem in parts of Wyoming. Other places have bigger problems. On Sept. 14 in Sublette County, a sheepherder was attacked by a grizzly bear. Miraculously he lived. The bear left a 7-inch gash in the man's head, two punctures on the left side of his chest, three claw wounds on his gut and a punctured wrist. Oh, here's the kicker. The pay is $650 a month. And all the sagebrush you can see.
Yet these are the guys the angel of the Lord came to tell about the birth of the Messiah, our Savior. Why? Why not the Bethlehem Town Council? Or the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce, or Rotary Club? Surely a group of men existed in metropolitan Bethlehem that were far more qualified to have an audience with an angel of the Lord than a bunch of sketchy shepherds. This is what I love about God. He takes the sorriest, no accountenest knuckleheads and uses them for His glory. Read about their response to the news of the birth of Christ. I'd say they were transformed. Any thoughts on what kind of weight it carried when these guys started spreading the word about what they had heard and seen? No wonder Luke describes it thusly in 2:18: "And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds." (NKJV)
There's a part of me that would like to taste the life of a Wyoming sheepherder. What's it really like out there? How bad is it? Could I endure it for more than a few days? I can think of one redeeming aspect of a sheepherder in Wyoming. When night falls in that big sky that stretches from the end of the earth to the end of the earth, unobstructed by trees, or houses, or apartments, or skyscrapers, without artificial light flickering for maybe a hundred miles, you can look up at a billion stars and be amazed by the hand of God. I reckon that's what those shepherds were doing 2,000 years ago, before the angel even appeared. They were looking up.