Shepherds and a Woman


Adoration of the Shepherds. Gerard van Honthorst, 1622

2014 was not a good year for me. Sounds ungrateful, I know, given that we went to Thailand with our best friends, spent the summer camping, and Homeland rebounded with a killer fourth season. Despite all this, 2014 pushed me to depths that shook every foundation I had. Last night as Brock and I counted down the final seconds of the year, we held each other close and whispered "It's over."

On the Sunday before Christmas, Brock gave this talk in Sacrament meeting. I cried, obviously, because that's what I do every time Brock gives a talk in church. But this one was extra special. Enjoy.


It’s been a long week for me. Has it been a long week for you too? I remember one night this week, I walked out of the testing center after spending four hours on twenty questions, only for a computer to tell me that I am a C- accountant. It was one of those days when I look up and wonder: “What am I doing here?” Some of you might sit up at night and wonder about that too and, if you’re like me, some nights it keeps you awake.

The beauty of the gospel is that we do know what we are doing here. From an eternal perspective, we know what’s on the horizon. But if you’ve ever been on a ship on a storm-tossed sea, you know that the comforting horizon at your bow is often hidden behind great tempest swells.

I’m writing this for anyone in our congregation who is in the middle of a storm, and who is tired of people saying “But you have the Plan of Salvation! Isn’t that great?” Our boats are solitary boats, and the views from our respective bows vary greatly. Sometimes the most patronizing phrase in our vernacular is “Why can’t you just see?”

Tradition has it that Luke wrote his gospel for a group of Christians that couldn’t see. They maintained that Jesus was born of earthly parents—thus denying his godly lineage and believing him to be simply a great philosopher. This was not done out of malice, but out of mankind’s natural tendency to disbelieve things we don’t understand. A virgin birth is one of them. The Christmas story is Luke’s way of saying “No, wait! You’ve got it all wrong.”

Luke goes into great detail, including one particular note that made all of Israel cringe. He mentions shepherds. He’s the only gospel writer to mention shepherds. There’s a reason for that, and it goes way back to when the twelve tribes of Israel migrated to Egypt.

There they found a lifestyle foreign to them. The Egyptians were agriculturalists who despised shepherding because sheep and goats meant death to crops. Battles among shepherds and farmers are ancient and fierce; let’s not forget the first murder on earth was caused by a farmer’s resentment of a shepherd. Joseph said to his brothers in Genesis that “Every shepherd is detestable to the Egyptians.”

Over time, Egyptian prejudice against shepherding seeped into Israel’s culture. The mishnah, or written version of Jewish oral law, describes shepherds as incompetent—one passage in particular says that no one should ever feel obligated to rescue a shepherd who has fallen into a pit because, well, one less shepherd to deal with.

The Jewish historian Jeremias notes that in Jerusalem during Christ’s time, rabbis would've asked with amazement how, in view of the despicable nature of shepherds, God was called my shepherd in the 23rd Psalm. Jeremias also wrote that to buy wool, milk, or a kid from a shepherd was forbidden, on the assumption that it would be stolen property. Maybe this is part of the reason why Jesus qualifies the calling when he declares himself “The Good Shepherd”.

Shepherds were deprived of all civil rights. They could not fulfill judicial offices, they didn’t own land, and they were not admitted in court as witnesses. Their profession was banished from the city to the lonely desert.

Could it be then that, in that same country, while shepherds were abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night . . . they were doing something more? Could they have been looking up at the sky, wondering “Why am I here? What am I doing here, night after night, in the pitch-black darkness? Why, when I go into town, why am I the butt of everyone’s jokes? Why am I doing this useless job? Why was I born a shepherd? Why does no one love me? And why do I feel so utterly, terribly alone?"

And then they weren't. An angel appeared, bringing good tidings of great joy. In one moment, lowly shepherds went from being pariahs of Jewish life to mouthpieces of Jehovah. The earthly calling nobody wanted became the heavenly calling God needed. These same shepherds, whose testimonies weren't trusted in Jewish courts, were trusted by God to deliver testimony of the greatest gift our Heavenly Parents have ever bestowed upon the earth.

And how was that gift bestowed? By a person held even lower in status than a shepherd. A person whose status equaled that of only slaves. A woman.

Jewish oral law explicitly forbade salutations in public to women. In fact, during the time of Christ, Jewish rabbis began every temple meeting with these words: “Blessed art thou, O Lord, for thou has not made me a woman.”

So how did they read the first chapter of Luke, when the angel Gabriel visits Mary and greets her, saying "Hail, thou that art highly favoured, the Lord is with thee: blessed art thou among women." No wonder Mary was troubled at his saying and wondered what manner of salutation this should be.

After the pronouncement that she would carry, birth, and nurture the long-awaited-for Messiah, she exclaims “For [God] hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden. For, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed. He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.”

Mary, who was restricted from having an authoritative role in her home or community, had been charged with raising the King of Kings. The woman who was inferior to, and under the authority of, the men around her, would conceive the Messiah without the permission or contribution of an earthly man.

So why did Luke write the Christmas story? Shepherds become heralds and the lowliest of Jews—a woman—becomes the nurturer of their king. Why did Luke write the Christmas story? Not just to show the divinity in Christ, but to show the divinity in us all. The Christmas story is not about sheep, stars, a manger--it's a story of transformation. It’s a story to show what God can make us if we focus our lives on Jesus Christ.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly hosts, praising God and saying “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

In our lowest moments, when darkness surrounds us and we feel alone, that is the time when we can feel the Savior’s love clearer than ever. It will transcend our tendency to look for signs of his love in temporal blessings. The real evidence of his love is that we can change. He suffered and died to create a path by which we can see in ourselves what he already sees in us: Our inherent divinity and boundless worth. 

Because of him, we can feel it and see it now. We don’t have to wait for the horizon.


  1. I love this, Kristi! Thanks for sharing.

  2. Can you tell Brock that I re-read this periodically on hard days and that it makes all the difference? What a beautiful talk. I hope your 2015 is going better than 2014 my friend. Love you!


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