As we lovingly display those shepherd figurines in our Nativity set or dress our children as shepherds for our annual reenactment of the verses found in Luke, do we recognize the significance of the symbol of shepherds and shepherding?
This sacred analogy was used often by our Savior and has much to teach us.
It is a familiar beginning. A new star lit the night sky, heralding the birth of the Son of God. A group of humble shepherds, while faithfully watching over their flocks, were visited by an angel who proclaimed the glory of the Child’s birth.
“Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people” (Luke 2:10). They were told that this Holy Child was the promised Messiah (Luke 2:11). This Child was to be the promised Lord, the Savior of a fallen world, the Redeemer of Israel.
They went straightway following the star to see for themselves and found Him, as the angel said, “wrapped in swaddling clothes lying in a manger” (Luke 2:12). These foreordained shepherds then bore witness to the world of His birth.
The Infant born that night grew to manhood and faithfully fulfilled the commission given to Him by His Father. He was the self-proclaimed “Good Shepherd” (John 10:11) who, with the loving care of a shepherd, watched over all of His Father’s flock.
He invited them to come unto Him, follow Him and trust in Him. He offered living water at the well to a Samaritan woman (John 4:10). He sought out the publican (Matthew 9:11), the leprous (Matthew 10:8), the outcast (Psalm 147:2) and the possessed (Mark 9:20), to lift, love and deliver them. Each of these examples can guide us as we strive to keep our covenant responsibility to shepherd and gather.
Perhaps one of the most poignant shepherding examples, especially for those of us who work with youth or nurture children, was the Savior’s call to Simon Peter to “feed my sheep” (John 21) and His patient preparation of those who would take His place as shepherds.
Jesus chose twelve disciples and walked with them for three years, mile after mile, teaching them His higher law in word and in deed, ministering to the people. His patient, loving shepherding changed them. He was their true and trusted Shepherd and though they came from different walks of life, now they too were to be shepherds, watching over His sheep because they loved Him.
Through His example, they learned to help His sheep to know His voice (John 10:4), to gather those who are scattered and have no Shepherd (Matthew 9:36) and to go after the ones who have wandered (Luke 15:4).
There is a quiet consistency about shepherding that is beautiful. Jeri L. Cahoon, a member of the Young Women general board, shared this personal cherished shepherding relationship:
“My father was born in a manger of sorts. It was an old, homesteaded farmhouse in Benson, Arizona. He spent his boyhood years there through the Great Depression. His family had precious little means, but he would go on to serve his country in World War II and become a doctor and father of seven.
“He has always been my faithful shepherd. He didn’t have a lot of faith in himself, but he had unwavering faith in the Lord and let Him prevail in his life. He quietly went about doing good for others, opening our home to all who needed something to eat or a warm safe place to stay.
“He has the heart of a shepherd, a protector, a teacher, one who taught by the way he lived his life. He was a healer of both mind and body. He was Christlike in word and deed. Always by my side, my father helped me weather the storms of life. I have never been outside the encircling arms of his love, even when it was hard for me to love myself.
“I came to know my Savior and His love through my father, and I press forward trying to be more like him. Still today, in his hundredth year, he is my faithful shepherd and I follow him because I love him.”
Each of us has had a shepherd, a mentor, a friend who has been a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path who helped us come unto Christ and follow in his footsteps (Psalms 119:105). It may have been a family member, a leader, a teacher, a neighbor or someone from work or school. Shall we not also go, and do likewise? (Luke 10:37).
We, too, can follow these examples as we lead the youth toward Him and in turn teach them how to become shepherds to those around them.
“The Lord invites us to feed His sheep, to tend his flocks as He would. He invites us to be shepherds to every nation, every country, and He desires His young people to join the cause. Our youth can be some of the strongest shepherds. They are, as President Russell M. Nelson has said, ‘among the best the Lord has ever sent to this world.’ They are ‘noble spirits,’ our ‘finest players,’ who follow the Savior. Can you imagine the power such shepherds will bring as they care for His sheep?” (President Bonnie H. Cordon, Ensign, November 2018).
As we rejoice in this Christmas season, take a moment to consider shepherds and shepherding. What opportunities do we have to witness of the Savior like the shepherds of old? How can we follow the example of the Good Shepherd to watch over Heavenly Father’s flocks? And what can we do to prepare other shepherds who will follow us — to shepherd the shepherds?
In this unique and stretching Christmas of 2020, may we all remember that the Good Shepherd knows His sheep. He loves us, protects us and walks with us. He knows our names, and He knows our hearts. We know His voice and He is calling us to follow Him. He also pleads with each of us, because we love Him, to love and feed His lambs and invite them to trust in the saving grace of “the Lamb of God” (John 1:29).