There’s an old African-American Spiritual that has been haunting me the last few days. The words have crept into my soul and wrapped their fingers around my heart. When I wake I hear their refrain. All through the day it echoes in my mind…
Leave your flocks and leave your herds
Rise up shepherd and follow
Can you imagine it? A cold hillside on a dark night. The lights of Bethlehem in the distant. The bleating of sheep all around. Small fires surrounded by weather hardened shepherds; nomads. I wonder if they were tired. If they missed home, or if the endless pasture was their home. I wonder how long it had been since they had heard the cry of a baby, felt the smooth skin of a child, heard the innocent laughter of a little boy. Calloused hands holding wooden staffs and wooly coats. That was their life. No women, no children, no roof over their heads. Only sheep, shepherds and endless sky.
there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Rise up shepherd.
Rise up from outside the city gate. Rise up from your comfortable place around the warm fire. Rise up from the routine of your day.
Follow the star to the baby. Follow the baby to green pastures and still waters. Follow the Shepherd of your souls.
Leave your flocks.
And leave your herds. Leave the things you depend on. Leave everything behind.
Rise up shepherd. And follow.
And they did. They did exactly what the angel told them to do.
Yet here I sit. Clinging to the comforts of my life. Glued to the seat of my complacency. Deaf to the Harkening of the Angels. Afraid to follow. Afraid to leave the flocks & herds. Afraid to rise up.
Yet, still I hear the chorus repeat. Rise up shepherd and follow. And softly in the distance I hear my Shepherd call; rise up, child, and follow.