I may sound presumptuous but I’m thinking of declaring December as International Shepherd Month. I don’t mean to detract any attention from the Lord, of course, but it seems that we pastors ought to take advantage of all the attention shepherds are getting this time of year.
Shepherds are all over the place in December. Not Santa Claus level, I’ll grant you, but shepherds are on mantles and freezing in front yards with bright lights on them. Some even have lights in them! Little kids dress up as shepherds. Every crèche has shepherds cheek by jowl with magi. (As if they arrived on time. If they’re so wise why’d it take them so long?) You can find shepherds everywhere from stained glass windows to Hobby Lobby primitives. People sing about shepherds and the little drummer boy might have even been one, although I know for a fact that sheep hate drums. So, I’m proposing we take advantage of all the marketing already in place.
I’m not from a vestments tradition so I’m probably stepping on toes here, but why not invite pastors everywhere, throughout December, to dress like the shepherds we are. I’m thinking homespun, natural dyes in earth tones, broad leather belts. (Absolutely no bathrobes.) Sandals, of course; no socks. Hand-bent wooden staffs. Beards are a plus, and lambs tucked in the crooks of our arms. (Stuffed animals may be necessary.)
Of course, no genuine shepherd wants to be the center of attention. If you want attention go into theater. It is our job, year after year, to hurry off in the dark, robes tucked up in our belts, to find Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in a manger. We’re always supporting actors, but in this story that’s not nothing! The old painters always put a halo around the head of the Christ Child, but I think a few good shepherds gathered around radiate the glory of Jesus more effectively.
The first time a few shepherds crowded around Jesus it was just them. No other invitations went out. There wasn’t much room. Now we bring our people, whole congregations crowding close, trying to grasp just what they’re seeing, what wonder they behold. In our excitement we may be inclined to talk too much and not give them the same quiet and time our shepherd forefathers needed as they huddled near Jesus.
Each year good shepherds try to recapture “great joy for all the people.” We’re probably more practiced in talking to crowds than our forebears but, given the glorious news entrusted to us, we’d be wise to ask for some angelic help to bring such good news of great joy.
I suppose it’s a foolish idea, International Shepherd Month. We too easily forget our humble calling as it is. But at least among ourselves, it might be fun to have some quiet shepherdic celebrations. Gathered around a campfire, telling about birthnights past, stars above hinting at another Gloria. We could regale one another about the sermons we preached. Someone would begin, “I did a series once …” and others would nod knowingly. We’d tell about our first-person sermons and the old preachers would brag how they were able to preach forty different Advent series while the rookies listen wide-eyed. As the evening winds down and the fire turns to embers we’d hum “Silent Night” and remember all the candlelit Eves we’d watched over.
Maybe you haven’t thought of yourself as family with those shepherds who were keeping watch over their flocks that night, but we have a lot in common with them, don’t you think?
Be ye glad!
Lee Eclov recently retired after 40 years of local pastoral ministry and now focuses on ministry among pastors. He writes a weekly devotional for preachers on Preaching Today.