8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.
11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 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.” Luke 2:8-15
In the last two posts we looked at a more Biblical view of Mary’s journey to Bethlehem and the birth narrative, along with the story of the Wise men. Now it is time, in this Christmas season, to notice a few interesting things about the shepherds on that blessed day.
Luke tells us that the shepherds were on the night shift, not too distant from Bethlehem, when suddenly the “angel of the Lord,” appeared to them in glory and great brightness. The shepherds were understandably terrified, having no comprehension of what was happening.
Before we go much further, I need to mention that the birth of Jesus didn’t take place on December 25. In fact, the first known celebration of the birth of Christ on this date was not recorded until 336 AD under Roman Emperor Constantine. The shepherds being depicted on the hillsides in Luke probably means that the birth of Jesus took place sometime in early spring. Constantine may have latched onto the date because some Christians believed that the birth of Jesus was announced to Mary on March 25 and nine months from then brings us to December 25. The day may have had some draw, as it was the time of year that the Jews celebrated Hanukkah.
While the shepherds were still recovering from their shock and surprise the angel spoke to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” The angel in these two short sentences pronounces four of the most majestic blessings God could ever offer humanity.
First, there needs be no fear in the heart of anyone who encounters God. God loves us unconditionally and comes seeking us out, as he did with the shepherds.
Second, the reason we have no fear is because God brings us, “good news.” The good news means the gospel of hope and promise. The shepherds had done nothing to merit being the recipients of good news, it was the angel of God who sought them out and brought the gospel to them.
Third, the result of the good news is “great joy,” and that great joy is for all people. This is the true meaning of Christmas; it is a time of remembrance and rejoicing that God came down to earth, in the form of a baby, to live and die that our sins would be forgiven and forgotten and we would be reconciled to God. Nothing we could do, nothing we could accomplish, and no amount of merit on our behalf could cause this to happen. It happened because God’s love is unconditional and overflowing.
Listen, it is not the amount of faith you have that makes you right with God, but the one who is the object of your faith, Jesus, who makes you right with God. This is the good news, the gospel, that echo’s over the hills of Bethlehem and down through the ages.
Shepherds were outcasts and considered ritually unclean by many of their contemporaries in the first century. But they were not seen that way by God, who selected them to receive the blessings of being some of the first people in the history of the World to behold the incarnate Messiah – the God/Man – Jesus.
Forth, The angel having proclaimed the good news to the shepherds now gives them instructions concerning their conduct in regard to the baby Jesus. “Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
The shepherds are told, “be not afraid”, because there is good news that will bring joy, not only to you but the whole world. That good news is that in Bethlehem, a Savior is born – the Messiah, the Lord. Can you imagine what must have been running through their minds as they stand there listening to this angel proclaim the fulfilled hopes of all Israel—the Messiah has arrived.
In these few short verses Luke is telling us that Jesus IS the Messiah, he IS the Lord, he IS incarnate, and he IS God. The theology of the rest of Luke’s gospel is outlined by the angel who proclaims the wonders of salvation to a confused and overwhelmed group of shepherds.
Suddenly a host of Angels appear saying (no, they are not singing.) praise God in the highest and proclaim peace upon the world. Jesus, the second person of the Godhead, has appeared in the form of a baby, to bring redemption to the world and through that salvation – peace.
Now, here’s the kicker. Once the angels disappear back to Heaven, the shepherds do the most logical thing in the world. They look at each other and say, “let’s go to Bethlehem.” Having encountered angels, received the good news, and been told where to find the Messiah, tending sheep doesn’t have that much appeal any longer.
Yes, at Christmas we remember Jesus, the baby who was born to die, that we might have eternal life. It is Jesus who brings final defeat to Satan, sin, and death. It is, Jesus, who is the joy of the nations and Savior of all who would be saved. However, it is also the time to remember the shepherds, the outcasts, who left everything to go seek Jesus.
Ruth and I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and throughout this busy season may the love of Jesus not be forgotten by a single one of us.