In the Christmas story, the shepherds were the first to hear about the birth of the Savior and the first to make their way to the manger.
And down the centuries, they’ve continued to lead the way.
The earliest Christmas carols in many hymnals are about the shepherds. “The First Noel” and “While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night” were being sung a hundred years before “Silent Night” was written.
The first painting we have of Jesus shows him as a young shepherd with a lamb slung across his shoulders.
So it came as no surprise last week when, at a concert of the first Christmas songs sung in the American West, the shepherds led the way again.
The Winter Solstice Concert in Santa Fe, New Mexico, was held in the ancient Cristo Rey Catholic Church. And the evening — like the state — was filled with enchantment. At one point, I was moved to tears. Afterward, people applauded and wouldn’t stop.
“Let Us Go to Bethlehem” (sung in Spanish, as were all the evening's offerings) had the shepherds singing, “The poor little boy! The poor little boy! How cold he must be!”
I liked that. The poor, freezing shepherds showing more concern for poor, cold Baby Jesus than themselves.
There's a lesson in that.
“Joyful Shepherdesses” was a song about the female shepherds who heard the angels sing and “The Offering of the Shepherds” featured the charming line, “I am going to Bethlehem with all my love to take this cushion to the Holy Child.”
But “Come Ye Shepherds” was the capper.
A carol brought from Spain hundreds of years ago, it had the shepherds playing the role of ancient journalists (or maybe newspaper columnists).
In the song, the shepherds observe everything happening in the manger and pass it along.
“Mary looked at Joseph and Joseph at Mary,” they say at one point. “And Jesus spoke and the three of them smiled.”
But the real headline news was when they reported that “Saint Joseph gave the baby Jesus a kiss on the cheek. And the baby Jesus said to him, ‘Your beard is scratching me!’”
Now that's a gifted child.
All I can say is that being a diligent shepherd must not translate into being a diligent journalist.
As I left the concert, I thought of my friend Julio, a shepherd (sheep herder) from Peru who is helping to watch the flocks by night up in Box Elder County. I think he would have really enjoyed the concert.
I was sitting by Julio in church last week as we sang “Far, Far Away on Judea’s Plains.” In English, the words say “shepherds of old.” In Spanish they say “faithful shepherds.”
I nudged him.
“Faithful shepherds,” I said. “We’re singing about you.”
He gave a half smile, looked away and lowered his eyes. Julio is very perceptive and very humble. I love to be around him.
Then it hit me.
He was just like those “shepherds of old.”
We were, in fact, actually singing about him.