Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis is the Proistamenos of St. John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL. Fr. contributes the Prayer Team Ministry, a daily reflection, which began in February 2015. The Prayer Team now has its own dedicated website! Fr. Stavros has produced two books, “Let All Creation Rejoice: Reflections on Advent, the Nativity and Epiphany”: “https://amzn.to/2t1rXwh and “The Road Back to Christ: Reflections on Lent, Holy Week and the Resurrection.” https://amzn.to/2WAcfG0
Welcome to The Daily Prayer Team messages by Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis, each day includes a passage of scripture, a reflection and a prayer. Sponsored by Saint John Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, FL.
And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased!” When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste, and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. And when they saw it they made known the saying which had been told them concerning this Child; and all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Back at the time of the Nativity, among the worst jobs one could have was to be a shepherd. The shepherds lived with their herds of sheep. They had to be nomadic, like the sheep. They slept at the gate of the sheep-pen with one eye open to protect the sheep from any wolves that would come and harm the flock. There were an average of one hundred sheep to one shepherd. And because the sheep were not rational creatures, it was very hard to manage the sheep and keep the flock together. Being a shepherd was a tiring, lonely, and frustrating job. The shepherds were so low on the social ladder of the day that they weren’t even being counted in the census in Bethlehem.
One positive thing that could be said about the shepherds was that they were faithful. These shepherds sat outside Bethlehem, freezing in the cold of the night, faithfully watching over their flocks. And all of a sudden, angels appeared to THEM, announcing the birth of Christ. The angels bypassed the thousands of people in Bethlehem and brought their greetings to the shepherds. It was the shepherds who saw the “glory of the Lord” around the angels, who saw the multitude of the heavenly hosts. Nowhere else in the Bible or the history of humanity has it been recorded that human beings looked upon the multitude of the heavenly hosts. Just the shepherds.
The shepherds heard the words of the angels and then had a decision to make. Should they, the lowest of peoples, follow the instructions of the angels? Would the Christ accept them when no one else would accept them? They decided to go and follow and they were rewarded. They became the first human beings after Mary and Joseph, to look upon the Son of God.
What happened after this magnificent, mind-blowing experience? They went back to their flocks. They were still shepherds. They were still outcasts. Encountering Christ didn’t change their socio-economic status. But it changed them. It changed their hearts. And encountering Christ can do the same for us.
The thankful heart does what is needed, like Mary. The thankful heart trusts, like Joseph. And the thankful heart seeks after God, it goes, like the shepherds. It doesn’t go for reward and fame. It goes out of faith, reverence, and awe. And when a thankful heart encounters Christ, it is made more grateful, more joyful, more committed. When an open heart encounters Christ, it becomes a thankful heart. A hardened heart, however, like King Herod, will not embrace Christ. King Herod had the same chance as the shepherds and the Magi to come and adore Christ. And he didn’t.
The lesson of the shepherds is that Christ can change your heart. The experience of Christ doesn’t change your bank account. But it changes YOU!
Lord, open my heart and prepare it again to receive You this Christmas. Help me to have the patience of the shepherds, to realize that it is not material wealth that brings spiritual reward. Help me to have the courage of the shepherds, to go to You as the source and center of my life. And bless me, as You did the shepherds, to behold Your glory in ways large and small. May I also give glory to You in all that I do. Amen.
Come to Christ with an open heart and allow Him to create in you a thankful heart that desires Him, which will become a thankful heart that will love others.