THE SHEPHERDS: FOOTLOOSE AND FREE-SPIRITED
READ: Luke 2:8-20 (Click here to read selections from the NIV)
Do you ever find yourself saying a word or phrase, and wondering where it came from? As I was pondering the lives of the shepherds in the Christmas story, the word 'footloose' came to mind, I suppose because of the way they dropped everything and went to Bethlehem to see the newborn King.
Apparently the term, which originated a couple of centuries ago, was used to describe sails on certain ships that were allowed to hang loose along the foot because there was nothing to attach them to. Calling these sails footloose, those particular ships gained a reputation of having a mind of their own, often sailing away in some completely different direction than planned. Today the term is used to refer to someone who seems to be a free spirit, charting their own path, with nothing to tie them down.
I don't know if you can really describe those shepherds as footloose. After all, they were poor peasants, trying to make a living in one of the most difficult occupations of that time. Day by day they wandered the hillsides outside of Bethlehem, moving their small flock around, making sure they got their fill of healthy foliage. At night they drew together--perhaps for camaraderie or comfort or for the safety found in numbers.
Sleeping under the stars, they had to protect their lambs from predators, like wolves or other savage beasts, making sure they didn't wander off. The livelihood of a shepherd's family, which may have included his parents or widowed sisters, rested on his shoulders. Even if he was a free spirit at heart or footloose in his yearnings, a shepherd didn't have the luxury of doing whatever suited his fancy at any given time.
That's what makes that group's reaction so intriguing. There they were, resting after a long, tedious day, perhaps sharing some bread and swapping stories, having no idea that they were about to be brought into the drama for which all of history had been preparing. Out of nowhere, some strange and ethereal light splattered the night sky and an angel materialized at their feet, telling them of a savior born in a stable. If that wasn't enough to make them want to run for their lives, the deafening sound of an angel choir singing something like the Hallelujah chorus, came crashing in on every side. What in the world were they to think?
But that's just it--they didn't think. They didn't stop to talk about what they had seen, or to plan a course of action. They didn't debate what to do with their sheep, or how they'd convince anyone of what they had seen, or where they would go once they got to Bethlehem, a city bulging with a million pilgrims. One of them must have said, "Let's go," and they all took off as if they hadn't a care in the world.
I'd like to think I would have done the same thing, but to be honest, I'm not so sure. Though I've never witnessed the glory of the Lord filling the sky above me, or had an angel set my heart pounding, or heard a heavenly host singing arias to the most High God, there have been times when God broke into my life, when his presence was real and His voice strong, and nothing should have kept me from running to Him with all my might. I look back with wonder at the times I did--those pinpricks of glory that dot the landscape of my years. But I wonder how many moments of splendor, how many opportunities to be a part of God's eternal plan that I missed, simply because I couldn't break away from the tyranny of urgent activities.
So join me as we embrace these days of Christmas, and let us open our hearts and minds and ears by seeking to be the kind of free spirits those shepherds were. May we learn to be footloose--open to dropping everything, if only for a minute or an hour or even an entire day, just to go wherever our Lord might choose to lead us. Who knows what glories might be ours for the taking if we do?
As you look back at your life, can you recall a time or times when God revealed Himself to you in some way, and you dropped everything just to be with Him, or to follow His call? Spend a few minutes reminiscing with a grateful heart. Do you live with openness to God's interruptions? In light of what you might be missing, ask Him to show you what might hinder you from being at His beck and call, ready to change your course or alter your plans at the sound of His voice. Spend some time in repentance, offering yourself anew for the adventure of being footloose with the Living God.
Worship the Lord as you imagine what it would have been like to hear the choir of angels singing, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, peace to men on whom His favor rests.
Offer your own song of praise, personalizing the Psalm below:
Send forth your light and your truth,
let them guide me;
let them bring me to your holy mountain,
to the place where you dwell.
Then will I go to the altar of God,
to God, my joy and my delight.
I will praise you with the harp,
O God, my God. (Psalm 43:3-4)
A CHRISTMAS ACTIVITY
Ask God to enable you to do something completely out of the ordinary today. Listen for His voice throughout the day, and when you hear the gentle whisper, drop everything as best you can, and go do it.
For a printable version of this devotional, click here.