Advent is a time of rediscovering proper perspectives. The image of sheep is fundamental to this perspective, as the relationship between shepherd and sheep come into view on Christmas night. The shepherds of Bethlehem are the first persons invited to see the Messiah (Luke 2:8-20), after which they go back to the flock overjoyed and changed persons. Why does Christianity keep coming to this image of shepherd and flock? We have heard the common reasons: shepherds are simple, dedicated, hardworking, caring, etc. All of that is true. But doesn’t a more theological reason point to Jesus himself, who brings the flock to himself silently from the manger (an eating spot for animals)? Interestingly (in my limited farming experience) sheep do not seem to respond much to shouting or even much to noise in general. They are drawn (by gastronomic forces of nature) to food and safe pastures, and they count on shepherds and dogs to get them there. They are drawn by the goal of satisfaction.
Readings from the prophets like Isaiah (chapter 7) help us to see that the Messiah will be coming with a kind of silent “draw power”, a gathering force to safety and satisfaction, and ultimately eternal life. Of course the prophets didn’t have it clear just how simply and quietly the Messiah would appear (no one could have guessed that), and yet the anticipation in silence is very patent. Our silence and reflection during Advent is itself a direct reflection of the silence of the original Christmas night, when the Word really began to dwell among us, and draw us to satisfaction and safety. The sheep and shepherds of greater Bethlehem got this. Why don’t we? Blessings!