The Shepherds – Common Folks
“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Luke 2:8-9
As the story continues to unfold the angel of the Lord is sent to shepherds abiding in the field keeping watch over their flocks by night. The role of the shepherds is contained in 10 verses of Scripture and only in Luke’s narrative.
“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.” Luke 2:8-18
As on the three occasions before (with Zacharias, with Mary and with Joseph) the appearance of the angel of the Lord struck fear in the hearts of those who saw him. And on every occasion he said to them “Fear not!” So, it is with the shepherds, the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid…” And not only that, he says, “Behold…” Look! “I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
Astounding news! In an instant their fears were turned to exultation, to anticipation, exhilaration, excitement and great joy!
A Savior has been born “unto you.” This was a personal declaration that Jesus was born not in a generic sense as a Savior, but in a personal sense as my Savior, as your Savior, born unto us for you and me, for us to be present with Him. Suddenly, all around them a multitude of angels [heavenly hosts] appeared praising God in the Highest! The night sky must have lit up like the Sun at high noon. And the music must have been overwhelmingly filled with majesty and awe.
Glory to God in the Highest! Not just glory to God but glory to God in the highest! To whatever the highest limit may be, of what created beings can do expressing themselves in worshiping God, this was it. This is the heavenly “pipe organ” so to speak, with every pipe sounding rank upon rank, division by division, from the least to the greatest with full power and volume, and the same praise of God is coupled with a declaration to the world, “and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.” In the midst of the highest praises of God comes a life giving Word from God to all mankind. “Peace and Goodwill to men.”
The shepherds were the first to hear it and they came in haste to worship Him. It is also striking to me that while the shepherds, as part of their daily responsibility, were awake and alert keeping watch over the sheep to protect and defend them from predators in the night, in the midst of their somewhat mundane task there appeared a spectacular display of heavenly beings, first one speaking directly to them and then suddenly a multitude.
Their response is also amazing. They say to one another, “Let us go to Bethlehem” and see what we have been told about. And this is the part that is so amazing. “And they came with haste…” Seriously? They did? Yes. They did. So, who was left to keep watch over the flock? The Bible does not say anything about the sheep after this. So, there is no indication of what became of them or how the shepherds would have provided for them.
Something in us wants to believe that somehow the sheep were protected and cared for by the angels while the shepherds went to look for Jesus. But the Scriptures do not tell us. What it does tell us is the shepherds did not hesitate to respond eagerly to the news of the Savior, the relative safety of the sheep notwithstanding. It is quite reasonable also, to believe that they brought their sheep with them for this once in a lifetime event.
The message of the shepherds for us, at least in part, is this. When God interrupts our day-to-day routine with a word of hope and promise we would do well to act in haste to respond to it, to act resolutely and without hesitation. This is not to say we should act capriciously or without reasonable care. We are always warned to test the spirits to be discerning of the things we hear. Are they of God? Do they agree and line up with the Scriptures, and are they consistent with the nature and character of God?
Most of the time such leadings call us to take action, to bless some one else, to teach, to encourage, to exhort, to give to, to bear with, to exercise patience or longsuffering with, to embrace, to cheer, to comfort.
In whatever way we are moved on by the Spirit, we should act quickly, deliberately and generously. Not as eye service as men pleasers but heartily as unto the Lord.
“Come to Bethlehem and see
Him whose birth the angels sing.
Come adore on bended knee
Christ the Lord the newborn King.
Gloria in Excelsis Deo!”