“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 2:15
Unusual, to say the very least. The Christmas story of the nativity is so familiar to us that we do not think it at first to be very unusual, but unusual it most certainly is. Unknown shepherds were the first visitors on the day of birth in a most unusual place of delivery. Even mothers in poor situations do not normally give birth in a stable, and the first visitors to see a baby so soon after birth are not ever a group of poor shepherds, unknown before entering the babe’s presence. It certainly gave the amazed parents much to ponder even though they knew this was a unique birth, Mary never having “known” a man. Nonetheless, a group of shepherds, of uncertain number, suddenly appeared and worshiped the infant baby in the feeding trough. They were familiar with stables but not with finding a baby in one, especially a baby of remarkable claims which they obviously believed and were most excited by and amazed enough to spread the news to everyone they saw thereafter.
God provided a birth announcement like none other for the birth of his Son. An angel from heaven terrified this group of blessed shepherds as the glory of the Lord suddenly shone around them. Whatever that is like, it had to be terrifying in its other-worldly character, just as it is to be addressed by an angel, then to have the message emphasized by a great company of angels praising God and declaring peace to those on earth favored by him, followed by the sudden disappearance from their sight as they found themselves alone again, except for fellow shepherds and sheep. One has to wonder if the sheep were spooked themselves. Apparently there was no stampede, for the angels were messengers of the sheep Maker. But the message itself was credible to the shepherds; they believed it and went to see for themselves this wondrous sight of the birth of the long promised Messiah. The unusual message and all that surrounded it did not dissuade them. They left their sheep and went to see with their own eyes, knowing that it was a message from Adonai, the Lord, through his messengers; he was a Lord they spoke about with familiarity. These appear to be devout and believing shepherds, brothers in faith with Simeon and Anna.
God does nothing without intent and purpose. He chooses to announce his Son’s birth to shepherds, most probably caring for the lambs and sheep destined for sacrifice at the temple in Jerusalem, a prophetic ritual for centuries pointing to the true Lamb of God whose sacrifice would truly redeem men and women from their sin. Shepherds came to witness the babe who would be the Good Shepherd of his people, who would know and call them all by name. Shepherds worshiped the Shepherd of Psalm 23. God had no need of announcing Jesus’ birth to all of Bethlehem and Jerusalem, of Judea, or even all Palestine, or the whole known world. Once Jesus had accomplished the purpose of his incarnation, the cross, the entire world would then hear of his birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection. This was not the time to broadcast his becoming flesh. It was enough that a handful of Jews and Gentiles, shepherds from Israel and Magi from Persia, would be representatives for all of us in worshiping the infant Son of the Most High God. His story of salvation would eventually cover the globe to ears willing to listen. The knowledge of his return will be universal.
So these first visitors to see the Christ Child were lowly shepherds, yet faithful believers, equally redeemed partakers of the benefits of the cross and of salvation by the blood of their Savior. It is not known if they lived to be part of the followers of Jesus or part of the upper room crowd of believers numbering about 120 in Acts 1, but we may one day find out some of them were. They were certainly early evangelists, telling others of their introduction to the Messiah. They were eager witnesses of the first Christmas story, presenting an example to those of us who know the “rest of the story” so that we may be ready testifiers of what we have seen and experienced. May we be as eager to let others know the good news as they were on that first Christmas night in Bethlehem. No matter what walk of life from which you come, if you have met the Lord Jesus Christ, you have a testimony to give to others. Joy to the world, the Lord has come. Let Earth receive her King!
“Flocks were sleeping, shepherds keeping vigil till the morning new saw the glory, heard the story, tidings of a gospel true. Thus rejoicing, free from sorrow, praises voicing, greet the morrow. Christ the babe was born for you. Christ the babe was born for you.”
(2nd verse of a Polish Carol, ca. 1925)
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