This is Christ the King, whom shepherds guard….
(What Child Is This?)
Confession on the front end that this is something of a sentimental journey, but perhaps not entirely. That line about the shepherds in the familiar Christmas hymn has always choked me up. Strange. But tell me – what king in their right mind would have a squad of shepherds as his personal bodyguard?
Shepherds were loners, they were marginalized and unimportant. They didn’t have much to offer except for some stinking sheep. Soldiers were trained for battle, hardened and sharpened to follow orders and hold their ground even in awful, fearful circumstances. If you were a king, you would want the strongest, fiercest, and most loyal warriors to guard you, right?
It seems that our God delights to take the weak things to shame the strong, and the despised and foolish to shame the powerful and wise. Our Lord may have indeed preferred a squadron of shepherds to a regiment of soldiers. Why? Well soldiers are rather mercenary and opportunistic. They are often power hungry. They might just as easily run their king through as defend him if the price were right. Those with power tend to use their power to exploit people and circumstances for their own gain or advancement. More often than not, you would find them expecting others to serve them rather than see them stooping to serve someone else.
But shepherds…. Shepherds had little power or social standing, yet a good shepherd was perhaps far braver than most soldiers. A shepherd might risk his life to save a sheep from a lion or wolf or bear. With little more than a staff, or a sling and a stone, a shepherd would stand between fierce and hungry predators and a defenseless ewe and her lamb.
Back to the hymn, I can easily envision a rag-tag bunch of shepherds who had just seen an angelic vision that a savior had been born for (even!) them hurrying to Bethlehem to see Him. (Forgetting the debate about the timeline for the slaughter of the innocents and the visit of the magi,) I can see Herod’s soldiers approaching to slaughter all the little children in the town and the shepherds making a heroic stand, fighting until the last man to defend their king, willingly risking everything to defend the Lamb. Now, that didn’t happen, but I can envision such a thing happening. Christ the King…whom shepherds guard. Christ Jesus, who would Himself grow up to be the Shepherd of Israel, who would willingly lay down His life for the sheep.