I’ve often wondered whether the shepherds who so readily left their flocks during the night of Xmas Day acted irresponsibly or not. After all, they abandoned their charges on the say so of a rather glitzy stranger who appeared to drop in out of the sky. Did it not occur to them that this was inherently unusual behaviour? Where were their critical faculties when they heard the unlikely message? And did they not feel even slightly threatened when it became clear that their seraphic visitor was not alone but accompanied by a large back-up throng of unknown nature and intent?
More practically, what arrangements, if any, did they make for the care of their flocks while they were away? – you can’t just leave sheep to look after themselves, as we are finding with our flock.
The Biblical shepherds did not, however, have to go far to reach the appointed stable, that is if you believe that the ground on which they so famously sat and from which they started their journey was in any one of the three locations in today’s suburban Bethlehem currently claiming to be the True and Authentick Fields. All of the claims seemed to me less than secure, with perhaps a whiff of tourist opportunism about them rather than undiluted Divinity. Be that as it may, what happened to the sheep is what I want to know – the sources are silent on this point, though an organ of the Press has a decided view on the matter. It is for once right (above).
All of which is preamble to our shepherding task today, a good example of why you cannot leave sheep alone too long. We checked them quickly for numbers first thing this morning – fine – but when we visited this afternoon and walked among them we found that four had become encumbered by strands of bramble. Two of them had strands around their legs; curiously, perhaps, they were not too difficult to catch and de-prickle. One had a strand round its chest and I managed to grab that when the sheep was more interested in nibbling nuts out of the box held by my sous sous assistant. But the fourth one knew we were after her, never letting herself be isolated, always five steps away from us; and we failed to catch her. She also resisted the temptations of the food box and would not come to us. All we wanted to do was pull a bramble off her back; fortunately that is no handicap and not much of a danger.
Still, they certainly need an eye on them every day. Meanwhile the little lamb is recovering, now walking and grazing. Andrew the shepherd is coming tomorrow so we hope he’ll find a flock in better shape than on his ’emergency’ visit last Saturday.
This will be the last ovine report for the time being. Tomorrow we return to art.