It’s the time of year for jingling sleigh bells, fake holly, ersatz eggnog, and real pine. Turkeys are bought and basted, children hang stockings, and excitedly count the hours before their gifts can be opened. What for? How did this whole celebration come to be the biggest holiday event of the year in our culture and time?
Though the season is frequently headlined with a mythical Santa Claus ho-ho-ing his reindeer across the northern sky on his way to deliver toys to good little girls and boys, it seems clear that the original reason for the season is tied to a uniquely Judeo-Christian experience rooted back in Bible times, which made me wonder about the story as told by Luke the physician, the only non-Jewish writer allowed to have a say in Holy Scripture.
Let me remind you of the salient points of the story. Luke says there were a bunch of itinerant sheepherders out in the Judean hills. Apparently, a couple of them had drawn the redeye shift. They’re tromping around the bedded down sheep keeping a weather eye out for marauding hyenas or lions when an angel jumps right out in front of them. Naturally, they nearly wet their pants. It begs the question, “Why did God send this angel with the biggest news in the history of the world to a bunch of shepherds?
Now, I write cowboy stories, so I admit that my thoughts on the subject may be prejudiced. If God decided to pick reliable messengers from some group dedicated to the raising of high-quality livestock, he should have chosen cowboys. Any cowboy knows that they are far more respectable and trustworthy than sheepherders.
After continued reflection, and in the interest of scientific fairness, I’ve had to concede there may have been valid reasons for discarding cowboys as reliable messengers. Bear with me. It’s a simple story, but there are clues we need to examine.
The Weather: There is incontrovertible evidence that it was a starry night in December, which means it may have been frosty. Cowboys would have to saddle cold-backed, and possibly bronky horses, undoubtedly resulting in one or two of the more frisky ones making a shambles of camp. This would have elicited some decidedly unholy language by the cook and any non-participants who had decided to stay rolled up in their blankets.
The Angel: The shepherds were definitely leery of this extra-terrestrial being. However, they had the good sense to keep the dogs at heel until events unfolded. I’m thinking if it would have been cowboys, there may have been a lot bigger ruckus, possibly resulting in the heavenly visitor being impaled on some early cowboy weapon. That wouldn’t have done any good, being as how it was an angel, but it would have spoiled the mood, and taken away from the central aspect of the story.
The Trip to Town: The writer Luke is a little coy on this part of the story. He says they went in a hurry. A few shepherds jogging down main street would have been no big deal to the good people of Bethlehem. Cowboys on the other hand would have hit town at a flat-out run, possibly whooping and hollering, scattering pedestrians and pilgrims everywhere, which surely would have landed at least a couple in the local jail.
The Stable: Luke says that this is where the Savior was born. Before the cowboys even figured out the location of the aforementioned building, the local constabulary might have trimmed their number. Whoever was left, still had to get to the right barn. The odds are at least even that there were several in the vicinity. Cowboys, who’d not been to town for a spell, and after a long, cold ride, may have had to pass the local watering hole—possibly more than once. After that, who knows if they’d ever have made it?
Conclusion: God always knows best. Shepherds it is!
I am so grateful for each of you, my readers. My Christmas wish is for each one of you to experience the special peace and blessing of the season.
Merry Christmas to all,