The Sheep, On Christmas Eve

MANY OF YOU may have grown up with ‘story pictures’ in your mind about Jesus, imagining that he was born in a crude stable, like the cardboard ones you can buy as Christmas decorations at Walmart.

But what if I told you there’s more to the story, if you look a little deeper?  As a sheep, I would like you to understand my role at the nativity as more than a passive, fluffy bystander. For me it was a date with destiny.

Please don’t think I am going to give you a boring history lesson, I just want you to have a fuller understanding of what happened near Bethlehem that night, long ago. You’ve probably never heard of the Mishnah (which means repetition). It is the oral record of the laws of the Jewish people that forms the basic textbook of Jewish life and thought, and is considered to be part of the Torah, revealed to Moses on Mount Sinai.  It is in the Mishnah that the Midgal Edar is mentioned; the Tower of the Flock. (The Targum is an Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible (Tanak) which was written during Israel’s seventy year captivity in Babylon. It is written in the language that Jesus, and others at the time of his birth would have spoken.)

Just outside Bethlehem, Midgal Edar, the watch Tower of the Flock was known to Jews as a place where the prophecy of Micah, 800 years before, foretold the birth of the Messiah.

And you, O tower of the flock, The stronghold of the daughter of Zion, To you shall it come, Even the former dominion shall come, The kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.Micah 4:8

But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting. ~Micah 5:2

The bible tells us in Luke that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem, of Judah in the city of David.

Just outside of Bethlehem city, but still within the region commonly known as Bethlehem, there was a place where Passover lambs were kept by specially trained and purified shepherds. The lambs that were born in this “tower of the flock” known as Migdal Edar, were under the watchful eye of the shepherds who would then inspect and either certify them for use as sacrifices in the temple in Jerusalem or designate them to be released for common use. The new lambs would even be wrapped in special swaddling clothes once certified, and lay in mangers, or dips in a rock, to keep them safe.

This explains how, when the heavenly host of angels appeared to announce Christ’s birth, the shepherds knew where to go to find the newborn babe — and why the babe being wrapped in swaddling clothes was  a significant clue. It explains why those shepherds were notified as it was their holy calling to certify Passover lambs upon birth.

I hope you don’t think I lack humility, but I want you to know I am not from just any flock and herd. The shepherds who kept us were men who were specifically trained for this royal task. They were educated in what an animal, that was to be sacrificed for Passover, had to be, “firstborn male and without blemish,” and it was their job to make sure that none of the animals were hurt, damaged, or blemished.

Under Rabbinical care, our shepherds strictly maintain a ceremonially clean stable for our birthing place. Our shepherds customarily keep the flock outdoors twenty-four hours a day every day of the year, but bring the ewes in to deliver their lambs where they can be carefully cared for. It was to this place that Joseph took Mary. It was in this special place at “Migdal Edar” that Christ was born near the famous Inn that had no room for them.

In the Christian bible (Luke 2:8-18) scripture tells that there were shepherds in the fields keeping watch over their flock by night. Who were these shepherds? I hope my story helps you to understand that they were special shepherds who were well aware that the Targum hinted, and many of the rabbis taught, that Messiah might well be announced from our “Migdal Edar” at Bethlehem.

The angels only told the shepherds that they would find the Babe wrapped in “swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” There was no need for the angels to give these shepherds directions to the birth place because they already knew. When the angelic announcement came, they knew exactly where to go.

Lucky me. My mother had just given birth to me and we were still in the special birthing space beneath the watch Tower of the Flock when Joseph and Mary arrived. Beside me, the baby Jesus, the long awaited Messiah was born. Just like me, he was wrapped in the softest, purest, snow-white swaddling cloths and laid in a manger, right beside mine, where my mother sat watching.

Like the rest of the world, it is a night we will never forget.

I hope you enjoy knowing a little bit more about the history of my role, as a humble sheep in the nativity. We each have our role to play. I hope you enjoy yours.  I wish blessed holy days, holidays to you all.