The LORD is my shepherd

We all know the verse (Psalm 23). Over and over again God compares himself to a shepherd to give us a picture of how He loves us.

Yet we learn early on in the bible that this profession is not highly thought of.

Genesis 43:32 “They served him by himself, the brothers by themselves, and the Egyptians who ate with him by themselves, because Egyptians could not eat with Hebrews, for that is detestable to Egyptians.”

This was before Moses, before the long documented rivalry (sometimes brotherhood) of the two nations. This was before Israel was even a nation. So why did they refuse to eat with them? Hebrews were shepherds.

Genesis 46:33 & 34 “When Pharaoh calls you in and asks, ‘What is your occupation?’ you should answer, ‘Your servants have tended livestock from our boyhood on, just as our fathers did.’ Then you will be allowed to settle in the region of Goshen, for all shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians.”

There’s that word ‘detestable’ again. Why did the Egyptians think it was so bad? Lots of people have opinions on this, and not many agree on why. I think the Egyptians were simply grossed out. Anyone on a ranch or farm knows that tending to animals is dirty, smelly, laborious work. Joseph’s brothers probably smelled a bit. Think about it. Sweat, animal poo, the lack of indoor plumbing at thier disposal.

So knowing how Egyptians felt, Joseph wisely advises his family to tell the Pharaoh what they do for a living. And they are allowed to settle in a fertile land separately and quietly.

God knows we sheep are a lot of work. Still he meets us where we are. Smelly and unclean, and he takes us by still waters to freshen us up. Thank you God for serving in a less than glamorous way. And forgive us when we think we we’re above any similar task. Amen.

Rest Along the Weary Road

This article was originally published in The Lutheran Ambassador, a publication of the AFLC (Association of Free Lutheran Churches).

Have you ever read a portion of Scripture and found a certain verse or phrase jumping out at you, striking you in a completely new way?  Or listened to a sermon when the Pastor said something that seemed meant just for you and your current situation?  Or had a hymn run through your mind over and over again?

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I think most of us have had that sort of experience, and when we do, we should pay attention.  The Holy Spirit may be nudging us to a deeper understanding, encouraging us with a word of comfort, or empowering us to take action.  Here’s a time that happened to me.

At our church during the Christmas season we always have a service when members have a chance to call out their favorite carols and the congregation sings a verse or two of each one.  As we sang “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear” one year, I was suddenly and powerfully struck by the words, “rest along the weary road and hear the angels sing.”  Wow, I thought, that’s what Christmas should be about.  Nobody can deny that life is a weary road.  The Bible tells us that “man …is few of days and full of trouble”(Job 14:1), and that we can expect to experience trials and suffering (John 16:33).  All we have to do is look around our congregation to see people mourning the loss of loved ones, others who have lost their jobs, members in difficult relationships, or suffering from illness.  Christmas is a time to stop, to rest from all that, to remember the day God broke into our human lives with a precious gift, His own son, Jesus, to die for our sins.

Those of us in church know this.  The youngest child can tell you that Christmas is the birthday of baby Jesus, and the most theologically sophisticated use a big word to describe it, the “incarnation.”  But what is Christmas really about for most of us?  Far too often, Christmas becomes a time of frantic busyness instead of rest.  We have gifts to buy and wrap, cookies to bake, cards to send, people to entertain, parties to attend, a home and church to be decorated, more evenings out as we practice special music or a Christmas pageant.  We stress over whether our presents, our hospitality and our appearance have made the grade.  Maybe we spend more money than we should.  Then when Christmas Eve arrives, we’re too tired out to really appreciate it.  It’s just one more task to get through on the way to the conclusion of the season, when we can sigh and say, “Thank goodness I got everything done.”

None of the things we normally do around Christmas are bad.  Giving of ourselves in various ways, getting together with family and friends, spending some extra time at church, or singing Christmas carols, are all good things, especially if we do them in remembrance and thanks for God’s great gift to us.  But if, like Martha, we become “anxious and troubled about many things”  and miss “the one thing (that is ) necessary (Luke 10:41-42), we’ve lost the gift Christ wanted us to have.  Jesus Himself said, “Come to me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28)  This year, I’m going to try to be more like the shepherds.  I’ll think of Christmas as a time to take a break instead of a time to get a million things done–a time to eave the worries about my life behind and stop to worship the baby King, a time to rest along the weary road and listen to the angels.