Oh the irony of the upside-down birth of Jesus in Luke 2! After hearing that the long-awaited Savior had been born, the angel told the shepherds of the sign that this is Christ the Lord. They would find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes laying in a manger. The first part of the sign, while not anything unusual, evokes thoughts of not only the beginning of his life, but the end of his life. At the end of his life, he was wrapped again but placed in a borrowed tomb rather than a manger. We know that in both cases, he did not remain there, but arose to perform his redemptive ministry.
The second part of the sign was highly unusual. He was placed in a manger, where livestock may have eaten before. This may remind us that Jesus is the bread of life, and that we have no life apart from him. But this scene seems too domestic and mundane for the King and Lord. What a contrast to the earthly king who was living in a palace. As I reflected on this, I wrote down the phrase, "Domestic Divinity." I do not know if I had heard this phrase before, or if it just appeared in my thoughts. There cannot be a more domestic scene than this. When people put up nativity scenes, what strikes me is how domestic they often appear. I realize that nativity scenes try to compress several stories about Jesus into one scene, but historically, the Magi do not belong there because they came later. The manger, barn, animals, and shepherds make for a very mundane and domestic scene. Yet God typically glories in the mundane and the ordinary.
This scene from Luke two reminds me of several passages. In Zechariah 10:2, God said, "2 For the household gods utter nonsense, and the diviners see lies; they tell false dreams and give empty consolation. Therefore the people wander like sheep; they are afflicted for lack of a shepherd." A recurring problem was the lack of spiritual and moral leadership in Israel. Kings, false prophets, priests, and fathers often turned to false gods and led the people away from God. Without proper shepherding, the people were devoured. The people were sheep without a shepherd.
What was God's plan for this? In Ezekiel 34, God condemned the leaders, whom he referred to as shepherds, for not exercising spiritual and moral leadership. The result of their failure was the scattering of the sheep. They had become prey to predators. God then declares in verses 11-12, "For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness."
God fulfills this promise in Christ. In John 10:11, Jesus declares that he himself is the shepherd. He said, "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." Jesus came to those who were like sheep without a shepherd to save and care for them.
What an irony, then, that the first to tell of the coming of Jesus were literally shepherds. These shepherds, whose job was to care for and watch over the sheep, came to the barn and saw the lamb of God. The lamb of God is the good shepherd. The lamb has become the shepherd, and the shepherds have become the sheep!
This reminds me, that even though I benefit from fellowship and leadership from people, I must let nothing take the place of the leadership of the good shepherd. The people had their shepherds, but despite this, Jesus saw in Matthew 9:39 that they were like sheep without a shepherd. Only Jesus can lay down his life for his sheep and take it up again. Only Jesus can renovate our hearts through the Spirit as we submit to him. Only Jesus can redeem us and give us life more abundantly.