One of the dangers of over-familiarity with a story is ossification. I've done it with favorite songs, too: You play it to death till you become deaf to what first charmed you about it. C.S. Lewis said it happened to Coleridge and Wordsworth: They tried to suck so much from nature that they ended up insensible to it.
Every Christmas we trot out the crèche again. We peel off the newspaper wrappings and arrange the usual cast of characters---three wise men holding presents (one kneeling); three shepherds (one with lamb on shoulders); infant bearing adult's demeanor, arms outstretched; Mary genuflecting by the straw crib; Joseph hovering over his wife.
We say the usual things about the shepherds: "See how God loves the humble. See how He revealed himself to those rough men and not to the wise and learned. Were there no great scribes and teachers in Jerusalem that God should pass them over to go to a field?" We say all that but we would drop dead with surprise if in our day God brought important news to Joe Homeless in South Philadelphia and gave him the assignment of delivering the message to the local accredited Bible schools. He wouldn't get past the receptionist.
I met a real live "shepherd" last week in Bernville, Pa. His name is Andy Merrick and he looks a little rough, to tell you the truth. It's because he spends a lot of time under cars and at car auctions, buying and repairing vehicles for missionaries. In high school his friends took bets that he wouldn't live past 19. God had other plans. After he got saved, Andy thought part of that plan was Bible school. But when he tried to wrap his mind around Greek and Hebrew paradigms, he didn't know why he was there, and he says the teachers didn't either.
Andy went to Peru as a missionary for 18 months and noticed they were working with lousy equipment, so he came back home and started collecting and fixing cars for them, till his neighbors in South Jersey objected to the fleet on his lawn and he had to ask God for more land, which the Lord obliged him with. Christian Missionary Technical Services now supplies vehicles to missionaries on home assignment, and even ships overseas. They also collect and distribute free clothing and do church presentations encouraging people to use whatever skills they have to serve. Andy employs a few mechanics, graduates of local addiction recovery programs and other shepherd-like venues. It's good to meet real-life shepherds and find out that God still does business the same way he did 2,000 years ago.
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