Luke 2: 8-12
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.” [Luke 2: 8. NIV]
In Part 1, I addressed the meaningful “And” with which verse 8 begins. Now let’s look at the setting of the shepherds.
In this day of city lights, aircraft flying overhead, cars and trucks roaring past where one lives, it’s a little hard to conceive of what they were experiencing. They are camped out in the arid land around Bethlehem. It is dark, so dark that the only light is from the campfire, the stars and perhaps the moon. There’s no other light, except perhaps the dim house fires and lamps from Bethlehem. It is intensely quiet. All they hear are the night insects – perhaps crickets – and night birds. The sheep are all settled down for the night, but they rustle and snort as they get comfortable and jockey for the best position for sleep. The shepherds tell stories to each other. They can’t tell each other how the day went, because it is the same for each of them. Nothing new there. And they gaze into the mesmerizing flickering, popping flames of the fire as it crackles through the wood. That’s all. Dark. . . . Quiet with some small sounds . . . . Peaceful – as it has been every single night of their shepherding lives. All is still. . . .
“An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.’” [Luke 2: 9-10. NIV]
An angel – literally, a messenger of God – suddenly appeared to the shepherds who were just minding their own business and not doing anything special from any other night. And in this dark night, there was now a heavenly light shining all around – an intense light or brightness. The word for “glory” carries with it a root meaning related to light. The Greek word here is “doxa,” and it is where we get the word “doxology.” A doxology is words of light or glory that we declare or sing to God.
Quiet – like every other night – and this being suddenly appears with a bright light shining all over the place. How would you react? Like the shepherds, I’m sure. They were absolutely terrified! All throughout the Bible that is the typical reaction to encountering a visit from God or his representatives. Except for when Adam and Eve were afraid of God in the Garden of Eden after they had eaten of the fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil (they were justified in feeling afraid), the reply of God or his representatives is “Fear not” or “Do not be afraid.” Isn’t that comforting somehow? When we encounter the great God or his representatives, do not be afraid – as long as we were behaving.
What was the message of this messenger? “I bring you the gospel, I bring you the good news” as that is what “gospel” means. The word here is from what we derive the word “evangelism.” A message being proclaimed. The messenger then reports that this message is for ALL people and that the news will bring you great joy (literally, MEGA joy).
Now, here is the message:
“’Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ [Messiah; the Anointed One] the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” [Luke 2: 11-12. NIV]
In the town of David . . . . You can’t tell me God doesn’t have a sense of humor (Why do you think you have a sense of humor? It’s good. Right? Then it must be from God.).
The Jewish religious and political leaders and theologians of that time were expecting the Messiah to be a political leader born in the CITY of David (Jerusalem, the capital) and not the TOWN of David (Bethlehem, an inconsequential town that King David happened to be originally from. If you are from another country and you like learning Americanisms, this town would be referred to as a “backwater” town or a “podunk” town or a “hick” town.). The Jewish leadership was also expecting this political Messiah to be born in a princely house with social and monetary standing in Jerusalem from the line of King David. And this Messiah was going to lead the people of Israel, the Jews, out of oppression from the Roman occupiers and establish his kingdom as King of the Jews.
Instead, God’s plan was that the Messiah was to be a religious leader, a teacher, to bring people back to God and free them from the oppression and power of sin as well as acts and attitudes that displease him. Yes, he was born from the lineage of King David, but it was to a poor carpenter who was engaged – but not married (scandal!) – to a very young girl. And she was pregnant. And in a further twist: the Messiah, the Christ, wasn’t born in a rich house of social standing. He was born in a barn, a stable, and his first bed was a feeding trough for the farm animals. Further, the Jews expected the Messiah to ride into the city of Jerusalem in triumph on his white battle horse and followed by his conquering armies. Toward the end of his ministry, though, Jesus rode into Jerusalem, true enough, but on a donkey and followed by his ragtag followers, his mostly unlearned disciples. The entire life of Jesus was a confrontation to the Jews’ preconceived notions of who the Messiah, the Christ, should be. Our own lesson from this is that you, as a follower of God, may have your own plan on how your life should play out – what your profession will be, how much your income will be, where you will live. But God may have vastly different plans for you that only play out over time.
Then the angel says that a Savior has been born to you. What does the name “Jesus” mean? God saves. It’s a form of Joshua that has the same meaning.
He is Christ the Lord. As I have written in previous studies on this blog, the word “Christ” is Greek = “Messiah” is Hebrew = “The Anointed One” as referred to in ancient scriptures. The following gives you an idea of who the Christ was and is.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.” [ John 1: 1-3. NIV]
This echoes Genesis 1:1:
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” [Genesis 1: 1. NIV]
When God began his creating act as portrayed in Genesis, the Christ was there. The apostle Paul says it this way in Colossians:
“For by him [Christ] all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.” [Colossians 1: 16-17. NIV]
When we refer to “Jesus Christ,” then, Christ isn’t the last name of Jesus. Jesus is the Son of God’s earthly address. He was born in Bethlehem and grew up in Nazareth. His earthly address, if you will, is Jesus of Nazareth. The Christ is his eternal title, which speaks of who he is. He was living at the creation of the world and he will continue to live forever.
The angel then called him “Lord.” He is boss, if you will. He is head over everything in the Universe and he will benefit the Universe and everything in it. He is certainly a beneficial boss.
Finally, the angel says that there is a sign so that you will know what I say is true. Head into Bethlehem, the town of David, and you will find a baby there. (Yeah? So? There are probably other babies there, think the shepherds.) But he’ll be wrapped, not in the finest of clothes as would befit the expected King of all that is, not even in a baby blanket, but in just some non-descript cloth. And here’s the key. He will be lying in a feed trough used for barn animals. I’m sure he’ll be the only baby in town lying in an animal’s feed trough.
I’ll end there for now. Tomorrow, we will look at the magnificent spectacular production that occurred when the angel was done speaking. Have a good day for as much as is left of it for you when you read this. Wear a mask. Keep your distance. And don’t celebrate Christmas with anyone outside of your immediate family that you have been living with for the past two weeks. It’s hard, I know. But prepare to really celebrate next year.
Categories: How Can the Bible Relate to Us Today?