Shepherds

SHEPHERDS


Nine months before the birth of Jesus, Mary was visited by an angel, who announced God’s plan that she be the mother of Jesus, which would include a divine conception.


Six months before the birth of Jesus, Joseph, to whom Mary was betrothed, was visited by an angel, who announced God’s plan that he, despite Mary’s pregnancy with a baby who was not his, go ahead and stay with Mary, eventually marrying her and then helping to raise Jesus.


Both Mary and Joseph responded to the angelic announcements with obedience. Neither of them understood God’s plans. Neither of them felt worthy of having the huge responsibility of raising the one described as the Savior. But each of them agreed to follow what God had planned for them.


Why did they obey? It was because they realized that God is God and that since He has ultimate knowledge and power, He deserves to be obeyed.


Concerning His power, here is something I read. If the distance between the earth and the sun - 93,000,000 miles - was no more than the thickness of a sheet of paper, the distance from earth to the next nearest star would be a stack of papers 70 feet high. The diameter of the Milky Way galaxy would be a stack of papers more than 300 miles high. Plus, there are more galaxies in the universe than we can number.


The point is that if God, through Jesus, can hold all that together, He is worthy of being more that a consultant. He must be our Supreme Leader, which is what Mary and then Joseph decided to make Him when each of them agreed to follow God’s plans. So it was that we had the very first Christmas - the wonderful birth of Jesus.


Not wonderful in the setting. Jesus was born in a stable in the little town of Bethlehem. His first clothing was swaddling cloths. His first bed was a feeding trough. 


But wonderful in that Jesus, the one who would become the Savior, came to earth. What a fantastic gift that was from God.


On the night Jesus was born, another message from God was delivered by an angel, this one to a group of shepherds, who are told about in Luke 2, beginning with verse 8.


On the night Jesus was born in Bethlehem, there were, near Bethlehem, some shepherds in a field, keeping watch over the sheep trusted to their care. Like most every night, it was no doubt yet another boring night. At least most of the sheep were sleeping. About the only thing the shepherds had to do was protect the sheep from predators.

 

However, on that night - the night Jesus was born - everything changed. Suddenly an angel appeared to them. An angel of God. From God. An angel with a message from God. 


And it was not just the angel’s body that suddenly appeared. The glory of the Lord shone around him.


What message from God did the angel give the shepherds that night? First, the angel told them to not be afraid. Second, the angel said, “Behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all people, for to you is born this day in nearby Bethlehem the Savior. The Savior who is Christ the Lord.” 


Things happened so quickly. One moment it was dark, the next an angel was with the shepherds, surrounded by the light of the glory of the Lord.


Talk about feeling unworthy. Not only did Mary and then Joseph feel they did not measure up. Most certainly the shepherds, who were looked down upon by most people because their jobs kept them from obeying all the Jewish laws, rules, and regulations about worship and cleanliness, felt lowly too. What? Receive the Savior? The angel said, “To you [to the shepherds] is born the Savior.”


The shepherds were confused about what they saw and heard, but there was more. As suddenly as the angel had appeared, there was suddenly with the angel a multitude of the Heavenly host. 


A multitude. How many is that? A number is not given, but there were probably thousands.

The Heavenly host. Who was included? They are not named, but probably other angels, along with Bible heroes from the Old Testament who had died.


A multitude of the Heavenly host joined the angel. Together, they all - can we imagine the volume of sound produced, which had to have been amazing - they all began to praise God, saying, “Glory to God in the highest.” God was honored because it was He who sent the Savior. “And on earth peace among men with whom God is pleased.”


What a scene. First an angel, then the angel was joined by a multitude of the Heavenly host, all of them joyful that the Savior had come. Imagine the light and the sound and the joy, for however long it lasted.


But then, as suddenly as it had started, it ended. The host was gone. The sound was gone. The angel was gone. The light was gone. It was once again a quiet night.


After a few moments to get their senses back in order, the shepherds started talking to each other. One thing they discussed was something else the angel had said. In addition to announcing the good news of a great joy that had come with the birth of the Savior in nearby Bethlehem, the angel had described how the Savior could be found. What the angel had said was, “You will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”


The angel did not specifically tell the shepherds to go to Bethlehem to see the Savior, but the angel did tell them how the child would be able to be found.


Which means the shepherds had a decision to make. Would they think the light and noise and excitement had been nice, but then just get back to work? Or would they respond to what they had just heard? And yes, they would be able to find the one described. Bethlehem was not a large area, so there could not have been too many babies born that night. Probably there was only one is a barn lying in a feeding trough and wrapped in swaddling cloths.


Like Mary and like Joseph before them, the shepherds had a decision to make. 


How did they respond to the angelic message from God given to them?


They said to one another, “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.”


That decision was important. Even more important is the fact they acted on their decision, doing so immediately. With haste - with excitement - they went to Bethlehem, where they found Mary and Joseph by the manger where Jesus was.


They then did two things. 


First, they began talking to others. Instead of keeping their knowledge and their joy to themselves, the shepherds began talking, no doubt talking loudly, sharing all they had heard from the angel and from the Heavenly host - that the baby was the Savior, the Christ, and Lord, that God was to be glorified because of Jesus, that the baby was destined to offer peace.


All who heard the shepherds - certainly including Mary and Joseph, but perhaps others who might also have been in the barn that night - wondered. They were amazed by what they heard. 


All who heard wondered. All except Mary, who did more than wonder. She kept all these things, pondering them in her heart. How amazed Mary was that what the shepherds shared was exactly what she had heard when Gabriel had spoken to her about her son nine months earlier, which was exactly what Joseph had told her he had been told by an angel three months after that.


The shepherds talked about what they knew. Second, the shepherds then returned to the field.


But listen to how they returned. No longer were they bored. No longer were they discouraged that others looked down on them. No longer were they disturbed about anything else in their lives.


Instead of still being bothered, as they returned to the field from which they had gone, they glorified and praised God for all they had heard and seen. 


The way I read it, they did so with such enthusiasm that everyone between Bethlehem and their field also learned what those shepherds had heard and seen. What a great evangelistic time those shepherds had.


The key phrase for today is share joy. That is certainly what the shepherds did that night as they told Mary and Joseph and others about Jesus. Something that is evident many other times in the Gospels, including two I will mention in this message, from a man named Simeon and a man named Nicodemus.


We meet Simeon later in Luke 2. Jesus was about six weeks old. It was time for Mary and Joseph to present Jesus to the Lord, which they did. Such a presentation was a common Jewish ceremony. Mary and Joseph took Jesus from Bethlehem to the Temple in Jerusalem for that ceremony.


While there, they met Simeon, described as a righteous and devout man, one who had been waiting for the Savior for a long time. How it happened is this.


While Mary, Joseph, and Jesus were in the Temple, the Holy Spirit inspired Simeon to also enter the Temple. How wonderful for Simeon that he obeyed the Holy Spirit. It was that obedience that gave him the opportunity to meet Jesus, which he did while he, like the shepherds had done earlier, told Mary and Joseph and any others in the area what he knew about Jesus. That Jesus was the Savior.

Interestingly, Simeon predicted that not everyone would accept the salvation that was to be offered by Jesus. Simeon also at least hinted at the death of Jesus. But, he announced, Jesus was the Savior, which would bring joy to those who would accept Him. And speaking of joy, Simeon got to meet Jesus and hold Him. That was a joyful thing for Simeon.


we meet Nicodemus in John 3, at which time Jesus was an adult, early in His ministry.


Nicodemus was an important man. He was one of the rulers of the Jews. One night he went to visit Jesus. 


The fact Nicodemus went at night might signify he did not want anyone to see him meet Jesus. Jesus was already unpopular with most religious leaders. Nicodemus did not want to risk his position as a ruler, but at least he wanted to meet with Jesus and did so.


As they met, Nicodemus had some questions. They were about being in the Kingdom of God. There is joy in the Kingdom, so this was likely a request for Jesus to share spiritual joy with him. Other questions were about what Jesus meant when He said that to be in the Kingdom of God, a person must be born again.


Jesus explained that to be born again means to accept Him - to accept Jesus - as Savior. That is the only way to have Jesus share joy with anyone. 


Which leads to one of the most well-known verses in the Bible. John 3:16. In fact, let’s say it together.


For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.


How can anyone have joy? The only way is to do what Nicodemus did, what Simeon did, what the shepherds did. The only way is to meet Jesus. To go to Him and meet Him. 


The only way to share joy with others? Accept Jesus, worship Him, tell others about Him.


Concerning meeting Jesus, here is a story told by a grandmother who had taken her granddaughter to talk to Santa. Here is what the grandmother wrote. 


There she stood, all 38 inches of her, clutching the outside of her big brother Michael’s pants leg. Her slender body skillfully hidden behind her brother, Chloe leaned out from her position of safety and peeked at the large man with the white beard dressed in red. There he was. Santa. As larger as life.


As the line of children crept forward, each child taking a turn sitting with Santa, leaning close to his ear, and telling what they wanted for Christmas, Chloe continued to hide behind her brother’s legs. “I don’t want to,” she mumbled, her big eyes wide and a bit panicked. Chloe hoped her big brother would not force her to go up to Santa.


“You don’t have to,” he said. “It’s okay.” He picked her up and they left the line.


As they left the line, Chloe glanced over Michael’s shoulder. She took one last look at the man of the season. The man she was too timid to get close to, even though he was the man she was counting on to bring her a present on Christmas morning.


Later that night, the whole family, including Chloe, went to their local Christmas parade. Chloe jumped up and down with delight to the tunes of the marching bands. Her whole face lit up when she got random pieces of candy from characters in the parade.


Eventually, Santa’s float could be seen approaching, signaling the end of the parade. The rest of the family stood up and folded their chairs and blankets. They stood in the grass beside the parade route, waiting for the Santa float to pass by them.


As that happened - as everyone else waved to Santa and shouted, “Merry Christmas” - Chloe took one step ahead of the rest of the family. She cupped her hands around her mouth, and belted out, “Santa, I want Paw Patrol bath paints.”


Chloe - the girl who had been so quiet and timid when she was near Santa - stood shouting her requests to him from a safe distance. She yelled the message at the top of her lungs three times as his float passed by. Chloe smiled. What a relief. She got to tell Santa what she wanted.


The story continues with this. How natural it can be for us to shy away from drawing close to the real man of the season, our Lord Jesus Christ. How often we might want to scream our wants to our Savior from a distance. We can hide behind the walls we call our comfort zone and peek at Jesus from afar.


But it should not be that way. In fact, Jesus wants it to be different.


Revelation 3:20. “Jesus stands at the door of our hearts and knocks. Whoever will let Him in, He will come in.” 

Matthew 11:28. Amidst all the clamor of life, Jesus says - He invites - “Come to Me, all who are labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”


Today, if you do not know Jesus as your Savior, be like the shepherds and Simeon and Nicodemus, who went to meet Jesus. Go to Him. In fact, you do not need to go to Him. He is already with you. Just let Him tell you about Himself. Let Him lead you to accept Him.


For those of us who already accept Jesus, let’s never be afraid to, figuratively, climb up onto His lap and whisper our needs in His ear. What a surefire way to have joy. What a surefire way to be able to share joy. Christian joy. The joy of Jesus.


Today’s closing carol celebrates the amazing night the shepherds heard about and met Jesus. Angels We Have Heard on High.


Angels we have heard on high

Sweetly singing o’er the plains,

And the mountains in reply

Echo back their joyous strains.

Gloria in excelsis Deo,

Gloria in excelsis Deo.


Shepherds, why this jubilee?

Why your joyous strains prolong?

Say what may the tidings be,

Which inspire your Heavenly song.

Gloria in excelsis Deo,

Gloria in excelsis Deo.


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,

Gloria in excelsis Deo.


Lord, thank You for the examples You give us in the Bible about people who were willing to meet You, including the shepherds near Bethlehem the night You were born and Simeon a few weeks later and Nicodemus several years after that. What a wonderful reminder that when people meet is not as important as the fact You are met.


Help any who do not know You as Savior to give You the only Christmas present You want, which is their hearts. Then, together, may we all rejoice at having accepted You, the reason for this glorious season.


Merry Christmas, Lord. Amen.