Luke 2: 13-20
Up to this point, there was just an angel – a messenger from God – making a sudden appearance with a lot of light, interrupting a group of shepherds from what was a quiet, dark, typical night. The angel gave them a message of the birth of Christ the Lord. Here is where you’ll find him: in nearby Bethlehem, and he’s wrapped up in some cloth and lying in a farm animal feed trough! Crazy, isn’t it? Check it out and see that I’m right.
But as they say on television advertisements in the United States and perhaps your country, “But wait! There’s more!”
“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’” [Luke 2: 13-14. NIV]
Then all at once – WHAM! – a huge heavenly army (Really! Those are the words!) appeared! Angels upon angels, an army of angels. An army proclaiming, ironically, peace. So this solitary angel had appeared and broke the quiet of the evening. He announced the long-awaited Christ, the Messiah, had come to earth as a person and was born nearby. And the realm of God was so excited that an army of angels appeared to give the big picture. First, all this is to give glory to God – heavenly direction. Secondly, there is a new world order, an earthly direction. That direction is that of peace, if people would just follow this Christ and become individuals who have good will toward God and others. This is the mark of finding favor with God.
Jesus said in talking to his disciples, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples [followers], if you love one another.” [John 13: 34-35. NIV]
Then the angel, the chanting heavenly army and all this bright light disappeared, and they all returned to heaven. Now it’s quiet again – crickets, night birds, rustling sheep and the crackling fire is all that can be heard. And it’s dark. Intensely dark after their eyes got used to all that heavenly light. Now what?
If you were a shepherd, how would you have responded?
- Uh, hey, Josiah. I think you may need to water down the coffee a bit. It’s pretty strong.
- OR, Did you guys happen to see anything just now? You did, too? We must have had a mass hallucination. It must be time for bed.
- OR, I wonder what that was all about? Let’s just settle down and go to sleep. We need to be watching these sheep, so we can’t go anywhere or follow the direction of that messenger of light. We’re too busy. We don’t have time. We have responsibilities. After all, the angels didn’t tell us to go to Bethlehem.
No, that’s how they could have responded. Instead,
“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. NIV]
They did what the angel told them to do. And to do so, they left their sheep unguarded and not looked after. It’s not in scripture, but I’m surmising that God’s angels took care of those sheep and kept them safe until the shepherds could return.
“So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger [the animal feed trough]. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” [Luke 2: 16-20. NIV]
Instead of overthinking the situation, they obeyed the angel and went into Bethlehem to see what’s going on. And sure enough, there was a baby wrapped in some cloth – and what? – lying in a farm animal’s feed trough! What are the chances?
What can we learn for ourselves from this incident with the shepherds? How can we respond to the call of God?
First, you can follow the leadership of God rather than trying to talk yourself out of what you know you could or should do.
Secondly, you can spread the message to others what you saw and heard. The shepherds were witnesses. In a legal trial, a witness only conveys what they experienced or observed. You don’t need to go into any theological discussion about your experience. It’s YOUR experience. It is what it is – without embellishment. Just tell your story, because it is uniquely yours and no one else’s.
Finally, you can return to where you work or where you live to continue your life. But as you do so, know that you have experienced the living God. It can be a time of glorifying and praising God as the shepherds did. However, notice something. The shepherds were glorifying and praising God – to each other! If you went around praising God to everyone you meet on the street, that sounds like you are doing a good thing, but it’s obnoxious. You would drive people away. People would tune you out unless God directed you to share in this manner. What did Jesus do? Proclaimed God – yes – but to learners and seekers, people who sought him out on hillsides or along the Lake of Galilee. And in so doing, he praised God both to himself in his prayers and to his listeners.
Regarding this final response, I wonder if that is a step we often miss in our Christian discipleship and witness. Our churches hardly ever – if ever – give a time in which we as believers can share our experiences with each other. How strengthened would a church be if believers praised God together for what God has done in their lives or what he has taught them.
I was hoping to complete this teaching by Christmas Eve, and I did. I hope you have a wonderful Christmas wherever you happen to be. If it needs to be a quiet Christmas without family or friends that you don’t live with daily, then may you have strength and wisdom to stay home and stay safe. Let’s plan on celebrating Christmas with family and friends next year. We need to show COVID that we know how to be safe and that we have the will to stay safe and help others to remain safe. When you love others, you do what’s best for them. Merry Christmas!
Categories: How Can the Bible Relate to Us Today?