That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terribly frightened, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news of great joy for everyone! The Savior–yes, the Messiah, the Lord–has been born tonight in Bethlehem, the city of David! And this is how you will recognize him: ‘You will find a baby lying in a manger, wrapped snugly in strips of cloth!’ Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others–the armies of heaven–praising God: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to all whom God favors.” When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Come on, let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this wonderful thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They ran to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. Luke 2:8-16
It was a beautiful starry night out in the rolling fields of Judea. Samuel and his five brothers, far from the upper rungs of the social ladder in suburban Bethlehem, gathered around the fire as their flocks rested nearby. In the distance they could hear the music, joking, jesting of the ever-burgeoning crowds gathering in the heart of Bethlehem for the census. However, it was just another lonely, cold night for them. They would spend decades in this obscure, insignificant life out in the pastures just as their forefathers had for generations. They were shepherds and shepherds were not that important to most people…or were they? Suddenly an angel appears. Then an entire multitude of angels fill the sky. Could this angelic message be true? Why were they the first to know? Eagerly, they run with anticipation to find the baby.
To whom did God first announce His Son? To the powerful and wealthy of Bethlehem? To the chief priest of the local synagogue? No. He sent the angels to herald the coming of Messiah to some poor shepherds, in a field “way out in the sticks”, as we say. Shepherds? Dirty, lowly shepherds? Yes, Shepherds!
Shepherding is hard work. Sheep are very dependent and delicate animals. They demand much attention. The shepherd had to love the sheep, even unto death, if it was required of him. He slept with them, ate with them, and would give his life to rescue one in trouble. In other words, a shepherd had to be a faithful worker, who loved his flock, and would do anything for them. A true, selfless servant indeed!
Likewise, Jesus was born in circumstances of utter humiliation, simplicity, and obscurity. He was first revealed to the social “nobodies” of that time. He was not born in a gold-trimmed bed in a palace while a great choir sang the “Hallelujah Chorus”. Even as an adult, many who stood before Him never understood who He really was. Ironically, even His own people, led by the Temple priests, rejected Him and put Him on a cross. Man-made religion and heaven-sent revolutionaries like Jesus have always mixed like oil and water.
He was King of Kings, yet born in a stable rather than a palace. A stable in that day was nothing more than a dark, musty cave. Though He deserved royal garments, he spent his first hours wrapped in old rags, and crying forth as all babies do, in a dirty feed trough. This was not a wooden container stuffed with fresh straw as we see in most Christmas plays. Not hardly. Picture a hole carved out of the wall of the cave where dirty animals had previously eaten and deposited their saliva. There were no plumbing facilities or neo-natal team to prep the newborn baby and care for the needs and concerns of the mother. No epidurals, painkillers or hot meals. No family or friends around to celebrate with. It was lonely, isolated, cold, dark, and humiliating.
Where are you looking for Jesus this Christmas? In the bright lights and complexity of multi-media Christmas plays and cantatas? In the warm, fuzzy moments of family gatherings by the fireplace watching classic Christmas movies? Thank God for these and other traditions that we all enjoy, however, I think they often fall short of placing us on the path of discovering the true Christ of Christmas.
The secret of Christmas is found when we began to live a daily life as our Emmanuel or “God in flesh”, Jesus, modeled for us while on earth. The way He came, the way He lived, and they way He died, each with great humility, sacrifice, and love for others is our example. Enjoy the glitter of the Christmas party, the inspiration of the annual cantata, the joy of excited and expectant children, but don’t forget the best way to “come and adore him as Christ the Lord” is to let Him live that sacrificial life all over again in through you and I.
Today, Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, longs to live in shepherd-like people. People that are humble, dependent, teachable and sacrificial. Even Jesus said we would recognize a true shepherding believer by their willingness to lay down their life for others. I believe the apple of God’s eye is the one who serves and shepherds others in the obscure and hidden parts of the community where no one takes note and no glory goes to man, only God. I imagine that just like 2000 years ago in a field outside Bethlehem, the angelic hosts of heaven stand with us in adoring Christ when we serve others in His name.
It is a beautiful starry night in your community. Jesse and his five friends are on the outskirts of town helping an isolated family remove fallen trees so their power lines can be repaired. The ice storm is weeks old now and most everyone else has had power restored. Therefore, this old remote home-place seems insignificant to the rest of the populace. The parents are physically disabled, and therefore, often forgotten as “contributing” members of society. In the distance, Jesse and his friends hear the bands play, the sirens howl, and the chuckles of a fat man in a red suit, in the clamor of the annual Christmas parade. In another direction, they hear the crescendo of choir anthems at a local church. Their task this evening seems so insignificant and mundane compared to what they hear all around them…or is it? Suddenly, a man in radiant white robes appears to them. His eyes seem to pierce their soul with His great love. He smiles, puts his nail-scarred hand on one of their shoulders and praises them for their faithfulness to His call. Eagerly, they run with excitement to tell others of this supernatural occurrence.
Shepherds have a lot to teach us. Step out of the holiday rush for a moment and find an open field on a starry night this Christmas season. Adopt the lifestyle of a lowly, humble, faithful shepherd and ask God to reveal His plan for your life. You might be surprised who appears in the “starry sky” of your life with a message of great news from Heaven. It will make you run with great joy! The angels await your decision.
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