Last weekend we celebrated Good Shepherd Sunday, and I spent that day working on a paper on Luke-Acts for my New Testament class.
As I read again the narrative of the birth of Christ, suddenly I was struck by the fact, and the inherent symbolism of those first told of the birth of Our Lord: the Shepherds.
His very birth itself, the very location, of course, makes this call to the Shepherds obvious, for Jesus was not born into a pristine stable akin to the ones found at Churchill Downs, but rather, a cave. The caves that skirt Bethlehem, to this day, are used in the same way; to protect the flocks at night. This is where Jesus Christ was born.
Our Lord, the Good Shepherd, was born in a place used to shelter sheep, and was placed in a wooden manger, from which those sheep might be fed.
St. Leo the Great declared that the wood of the manger is that of the wood of the Cross, so we see that immediately from birth, our Good Shepherd was being prepared, as the gospels say, to lay down his life for his sheep.
Yet there is another connection; the Shepherds themselves. The Angelic messengers were sent to the Shepherds by God to call them to the side of Christ as He lay in the manger.
Are you seeing what I am seeing? Are you seeing the pattern emerging?
The Shepherds...shepherds...were CALLED by God (via the Angels), to go to the side of Christ as He lay in the manger.
The Shepherds were called to the SIDE OF CHRIST.
What did the Shepherds do when they left the side of the Infant Jesus? They proclaimed the Good News, the birth of the Messiah. They proclaimed the miracle. They were first called by God, and then sent to fulfill His will. The Shepherds...proclaiming the Good Shepherd who was born amidst a flock and laid in the wood of the manger. (Luke 1:8-20)
But there's more, isn't there? What is the Priesthood? Who are the Bishops?
Have you seen a Bishop's crosier lately?
Just as the Shepherds were called to the side of Christ and sent to proclaim the good news of His birth, so was the Church born out of the side of Christ, Apostles called to the scene of His Resurrection, and the Holy Spirit sent to the Apostles to continue the saving mission of Christ: to preach the Good News, to bring Christ to the world, yet in a perfect fulfillment of the New Covenant. For the Shepherds today, too, are called to proclaim the Gospel, but with a profound authority that can be given only by God to those whom He calls, they bring Jesus Christ to His people, for it is the Good Shepherd Himself who continues to feed His flock through their hands.