A prophet stood bound and imprisoned in front of a king. This king and his priests mocked the man, challenging his faith and teachings. But the prophet, Abinadi, affirmed the words of Isaiah, that a Man who would be born who would be “brought as a lamb to the slaughter” (Mosiah 14:7).
Abinadi’s testimony came over a hundred years before Christ was born. Then and long before that, the prophesied Savior and Messiah was connected to the symbol of a lamb. The prophet Alma also taught the Nephites of the “good shepherd” who “doth call you” (Alma 5:38) about 83 years before Christ’s birth. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that these symbols of Christ were both present the night of His birth.
Shepherds and Lambs at Christ’s Birth
Last week, we looked at the role light played in Christ’s birth (if you missed that article, it’s linked at the bottom of this page). This week, we’re looking at the presence of the shepherds and the sheep, and what it meant to have these figures present the night of Christ’s birth.
Luke tells us that, the night Jesus was born, the shepherds were taking care of their sheep. These diligent workers were only taken from their task by the appearance of an angel who told them that the prophesied Messiah had been born and that they could go see Him with their own eyes. And of course, we know that the shepherds did exactly as the angel directed them to do.
I love that the shepherds were right where they were supposed to be. It’s a testament to the fact that, when we diligently fulfill our responsibilities, we are well-placed for God to reach us. And those shepherds were clearly blessed for their diligence.
The sheep or lambs played a less obvious role in the birth of Christ. In fact, the lambs are hardly mentioned at all. It never says that the shepherds took any of their sheep along with them to see Jesus. However, Nativity scenes typically feature sheep tagging along with the shepherds, and it doesn’t stretch the imagination to picture the shepherds bringing along a few of their sheep.
But whether any sheep went with the shepherds or if they only observed the angels, their presence that night is still significant because of the symbol they were to the Jews for centuries before the Messiah was born.
Christ as the Lamb
In the Old Testament, lambs are specifically used for sacrifices performed in the law of Moses. Sacrifices in the law of Moses were always spiritual and symbolic of other things. In fact, Abinadi taught that “all these things were types of things to come” (Mosiah 13:31). The sacrifice of the lambs foreshadowed the sacrifice of our Savior. This symbolism of sacrifice becomes especially clear when Christ is called “the Lamb of God” various times in scripture.
So with this symbolism in mind, it becomes particularly interesting that sheep were present the night of Christ’s birth. That they played any part in it at all.
Last week, when we talked about light, it was clear that light was a symbol of His deliverance and of how Christ would live His life. The sheep, small of a role as they played in His birth, were symbols of His death. They represented the purpose the infant would fulfill throughout His life.
It’s kind of sad to think about a symbol of Christ’s death with His birth. Yet His death brought liberation to each of us, and it made resurrection possible. The combination of a symbol of life (an infant) with the symbol of Christ’s death gives us a good representation of all that Christ has done for us and of the hope He makes possible in our lives.
Christ as the Shepherd
The shepherds who watched their flocks the night of Christ’s birth probably never expected to see angels or their Messiah. But it seems even less likely that they would consider themselves to be symbols of Christ as well.
The shepherds were humble caretakers of their flocks. They clearly spent long hours at all times of day and night watching their sheep and protecting them. And only the greatest miracle could take them away from their flocks.
These humble shepherds were able to see the Savior of the world with their own eyes. And now, when we look back at the shepherds, we can also see Christ in them.
Christ too is and always has been a humble caretaker of each of us. We are His sheep, and He does all He can to love us, care for us, and protect us. The shepherds may have left their sheep for the miracle of Christ’s birth, but Christ does not leave us because He is the miracle we seek. He, like the shepherds, spends long hours – or rather, eternity – with us.
Christ’s life was spent calling people to follow Him, and those who knew Him did. Have you ever watched a video of a shepherd calling his sheep? If you haven’t, it’s worth seeing. The sheep will never respond to someone other than the shepherd calling them, but the moment the shepherd calls, they come running. When you see those videos, it’s no longer hard to believe that the fishermen immediately followed Him when He said, “Come.”
In Christ, we have a protector, a healer, a guide, and a companion. The shepherds at His birth foreshadowed His nature and character. We are blessed to see that symbol of His character in each Nativity scene we see.
Christ is both the Lamb and the Shepherd. He sacrificed for us, and He protects us. Christ’s names – the Lamb of God and the Good Shepherd – are taught in these symbols that were physically present the night of His birth.
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