The weather we have here in southern California is remarkably like that of Israel. Just as we do, areas of Israel often experience a rainy season this time of year. As with our area, they too see tender winter grasses spring up on the hillsides. This provides a good source of nourishment for livestock. Even today, shepherds can be seen tending flocks out in those Judean hills in December.
Though the area immediately around Bethlehem offers sparse vegetation, there is better grazing land farther to the east, where the Bethlehemites claim common pasturage. There are sheepfolds, often in the form of shallow caves, in the rocky faces near Bethlehem and other villages, where flocks were kept at night. But due to the distance away that the good winter pasture lands were, the shepherds would choose rather to set up camps and remain out in the hills with their flocks for brief periods in this winter grazing season.
This fits well with the Biblical narrative of the birth of our Saviour. When you go to Israel you may have the opportunity to travel the short distance from Jerusalem to the village of Bethlehem. Your guide may point out the hillside they have designated as the traditional site of the visit of the angelic host to the shepherds, though this is likely not the place. Shepherds having their flocks nearby simply lead them to the folds for protection at night rather than keeping them out in a nearby field.
Could those Judean shepherds have imagined that they were to be among the first to set eyes on the One who would come to be called the Lamb of God and the Chief Shepherd, their astonishment would have been even greater! After their visit and as they returned to their flocks in the eastern hills, what a conversation it must have been. Luke 2:20, And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. We’ll join them again as we celebrate this Christmas season, the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world!