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The Light the Shepherds Saw

The Light the Shepherds Saw

By David G. Duggan
December 20, 2021

Shepherds depend on their dogs. Much better able to see at night and to sense danger, dogs were the first animal to be domesticated. The second, the archaeologists tell us, were sheep. Preternaturally afraid of canines, sheep can be herded, led and protected by dogs. Men have used this knowledge to tend their flocks by night.

Sheep don't like being penned. Prone to catching disease that would wipe out the flock, they thrive in mountain crags and alpine meadows. They can shear the grass much closer to the ground than cattle. And because of their lanolin-enriched coats, they can withstand lower temperatures than other domesticated animals. No wonder the Pilgrims and other early settlers brought sheep to these shores in the holds of their tiny ships. They are a one-animal human survival factory providing wool, meat and milk to hungry and freezing voyagers.

Through His angels, God chose to announce His Son's birth to shepherds outside Bethlehem. We don't know how far away they were or how they made it to the manger bearing the infant. The heavenly host had lit up the night sky, but by the time of the shepherd's journey, the host had dispersed. Travel by night was perilous. We don't know if the shepherds were led by a dog: the star leading the wise men to the creche had not yet appeared.

In that one moment we see the entire expanse of salvation: God who protects His people living in darkness, shining a heavenly light to announce the birth of the One who was the Light, prompting the shepherds, the guardians of animals created for our preservation, to leave their flock to see what had been foretold eons before. How many shepherds had sat by their flocks at night waiting for that moment?

The shepherds outside Bethlehem, the least of the cities of Judah, saw the Child who would become the ultimate Shepherd: domesticating us for eternal life in Him. The darkness becomes the Light, the shepherds become the heralds, the Child becomes the Shepherd, and the Shepherd becomes the food of eternal life through His Body and Blood given for the flock of believers living in darkness until the Light appeared.

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