“In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the field and keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them. And they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. For behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all people. For today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.’” (Luke 2: 8-11).
The third Sunday of Advent certainly stands out among the crowd. In the ring of purple candles, there is one rose candle we light on the third Sunday. This is called the Shepherds’ Candle, and represents joy.
We are all familiar with the Christmas scene. Mary and Joseph are in the stable with their newborn Jesus. The animals surround them. Though the wise-men do not arrive until the Epiphany (in early January), we always depict them as being present. In a traditional manger scene, there is an angel above the Holy Family. But who completes the display? Of course, the shepherds.
Why did the angel bring shepherds to the stable?
The wise-men arrive following the star, looking for a newborn king. But the shepherds are brought to Christ by the angel messenger. They are the first people to be told to rejoice that their savior has been born. Shepherds were, arguably, the lowest of the low. They lived out on the edges of their cities, tending sheep day and night. Shepherds lived their lives in service and isolation. Yet here was an angel of God, inviting them to Bethlehem to see Jesus, giving them a place among the Holiest and Holies.
Christ is both Lamb of God and Good Shepherd
Jesus is the Lamb of God, the Passover sacrifice to end the suffering of the Jewish people. He is also the Good Shepherd, the keeper of the flock who leaves the 99 and separates sheep from goats. The shepherds on Christmas night represent Christ’s two great roles in the redemption of humanity.
We are called to follow Christ this advent, as both lamb and shepherd. Christians are called to sacrifice ourselves and bring our sins to God. We are meant to be shepherds to those around us, bringing the joy of Christ’s life to others. This advent, we must prepare ourselves to be sheep- not goats.