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
And in that region there were shepherds out in the field keeping watch over their flocks by night. Luke 2:8
Good morning Prayer Team!
I’m sure during the period of the census in Bethlehem, there were people from all walks of life, all economic classes. There were well-to-do people who got the most expensive rooms in the most expensive inns, who rode the best donkeys and camels. With so many people descending on Bethlehem for the census, there were undoubtedly parties and family gatherings, reunions of friends, loud music, dancing and good food.
The shepherds were among the poorest of the people. They were not part of the Bethlehem social scene. Their work was done around the clock, in anonymity, with little compensation. I’m sure very few parents of the time dreamed for their children to be shepherds.
Yet, God chose these “poor shepherds” (the First Noel) to hear the good news. He chose to bless the shepherds to hear a multitude of the heavenly angels singing God’s praises. And when the Shepherds told people what they had heard and seen, in a sense, He chose them to become the first “evangelists,” the first to share the good news.
Why these Shepherds? First, the message of Christ is for all people. He didn’t take it to the high and mighty, but to the lowly. Christ’s Nativity inaugurated the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, but He “reigns” with humility. So the message was given first to the most humble of people, simple shepherds. This is good news indeed, because the message of Christ IS for everyone. And that does not include only every socio-economic level. It includes every spiritual level:
If you’ve memorized the Christmas story or can’t remember most of the details, Christ’s message is for you.
If you read the Bible every day, or have never read it before, Christ’s message is for you!
If you pray every day, or if you’ve never said a genuine prayer, Christ’s message is for you!
If Christ is the focus of your life, or if you are just starting your relationship with Him, Christ’s message is for you!
Ok, so what is the message? The answer comes from the shepherds as well. One of the ways Christ reveals Himself is as “the Good Shepherd.” In John 10: 11-15, we read:
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hireling and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, sees the wolf coming and leave the sheep and flees; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hireling and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, as the Father know me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
Jesus uses this image because all Christians are like a flock of sheep. Jesus is our Shepherd. Jesus protects the flock from “wolves” and all harm. When one sheep is lost, like a good shepherd, He goes in search of the lost sheep. Most important, like a good shepherd keeps his flock together until they get safely to their pen at the end of the day, Jesus keeps His flock together and provides for our safety until we reach the permanent safety of heaven at the end of our lives.
I hope that the images sticking in your mind are not the loud and raucous parties of Bethlehem, but the peace of the cave and the safety of the pen. For many people, if you asked them where do you want to end up—a cave, a pen or a party—the answer most certainly would be the party. The message of Christ is that we want to end up in the cave and safely in the pen. It is in humility that we experience Christ. The message is for everyone!
Give ear to my words, o Lord; give heed to my groaning. Hearken to the sound of my cry, my King and my God, for to Thee do I pray. O Lord, in the morning Thou dost hear my voice; in the morning I prepare a sacrifice for Thee and watch. . .But I through the abundance of Thy steadfast love will enter Thy house, I will worship toward Thy holy temple in the fear of Thee. Lead me, O Lord in Thy righteousness because of my enemies; make Thy way straight before me. Psalm 5: 1-3, 7-8 (Read at the Royal Hours of the Nativity)
Be witness for Christ to everyone you meet today!
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The Orthodox Christian Network (OCN) is an official agency of the Assembly of Canonical Orthodox Bishops. OCN offers videos, podcasts, blogs and music, to enhance Orthodox Christian life. The Prayer Team is a daily devotion written by Fr. Stavros N. Akrotirianakis, the parish priest at St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church in Tampa, Florida. Devotions include a verse from scripture, a commentary from Fr. Stavros, and a short prayer that he writes to match the topic.
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