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Christmas – When Nobodies Become Somebodies

by Bob Russell

Reprint from www.bobrussell.org

     Shepherding was a blue-collar job in the First Century. It required very little training. Even young boys could tend sheep, and it was a good thing because thousands were needed. Bible commentator William Barclay estimated that 250,000 sheep were sacrificed at the annual Passover Feast in Jerusalem. There were lots of shepherds keeping watch over their flocks at night on the Judean hillsides.

     Most shepherds were not held in high regard. Before introducing his brothers to Pharaoh, Joseph, the Vice Pharaoh of Egypt, advised them: Don’t tell him you’re shepherds because “shepherds are detestable to the Egyptians” (Gen. 46:34). In 1 Samuel 17, the shepherd boy David rebuked his older brothers for not having the courage to fight Goliath, the giant who was taunting the army of God. David’s brother Eliab angrily snapped at him, “Go back to tending your scrawny flock of sheep – you don’t belong here!”

     Yet on that first Christmas God chose to announce the birth of His Son to a handful of these night watchman huddled around a campfire outside Bethlehem. What a boost it must have been to the shepherd’s sense of self-worth to be selected by God to be the first to see the baby Jesus. Maybe they weren’t significant to the world, but they were significant to God who had singled them out for a special revelation.

     Not only were those shepherds the privileged eyewitnesses to a choir of angels and the newborn Messiah, but they were also entrusted with the huge responsibility of sharing what they had experienced with everyone they met. They were the center of attention and the talk of the entire region! “…all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them” (Luke 2:18).

     Jesus said to His disciples, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me, you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Apart from Jesus Christ, we are all nobodies regardless of our current status in the world.

     Most counselors today advise us to develop a positive self-worth. They insist, “You are important. There’s no one like you. You have a unique set of fingerprints, and you are special.” Parents are instructed to encourage their children, “You can do anything you set your mind to. You can be anything you want to be. You are somebody!”

     But that’s not really true. If Shaquille O’Neal’s mother told him, “You can be a jockey and win the Kentucky Derby someday,” that would not be true. If Pat Day’s father told him, “You can be a dominant center in the NBA someday,” that would not be realistic.

     Here’s the unpleasant truth. Apart from God, I’m not very important. I really don’t matter much at all. I’m just one of six billion people temporarily alive on this planet which is a tiny blue dot in the vast universe. I may live to be 80 or even 90 years old, and then I will die, and my body will return to the dust of the ground. Very few people will notice when I’m gone. The few who do love me will weep at my funeral and talk about what a nice person I was and how much they will miss me and then they’ll go back to the church building and eat ham sandwiches and potato chips and tell jokes and laugh and go on without me.

     One hundred years from now chances are most of our names won’t be spoken again on the face of the earth. The Bible asks, “What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes” (James 4:14).

     But when Christ is born in us, we have a divine calling and an eternal purpose. He not only forgives our sins through His atoning sacrifice on the cross, but He also transforms us from being nobodies to being children of the Creator of the universe! “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” (1 John 3:1).

A tooth, believed to have been extracted from Napoleon’s mouth, was sold at auction in London, Thursday, Nov. 10, 2005, for 12,939 pounds (19,200 euros, US$22,600). Photo Credit: AP Photo (C) Associated Press

     On November 10, 2005, a single tooth sold for $22,600 at the Dominic Winter Auction House in London, England. The tooth fairy might leave a couple of dollars under the pillow in exchange for a recently pulled molar, but who would pay $22,600 for an old yucky tooth? That particular tooth was of such high value because it had allegedly been pulled from the mouth of Napoleon Bonaparte during Napoleon’s exile on the Island of St. Helena in 1819. The auction officials displayed papers that traced the tooth back to its roots!

     We are not of much value on our own. That’s why Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing.” But when Christ is born in us, we become a part of the body of Christ. We have eternal significance because we have been adopted into the family of God. And we have been entrusted with the crucial assignment of taking the gospel to the world. We become somebody important not because of who we are but because of to whom we belong.

     One of the joys of Christmas is the reminder that, like those First Century shepherds, we matter to the God of the universe. Simon Peter stated it this way, “…you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” 1 Peter 2:9).


Bob Russell is retired Senior Minister of the Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, KY.

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The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10