8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14″Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”
15When 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.”
16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
I should imagine it’s a hard life being a shepherd. Spending long amounts of time out in the fields, in all weather, day and night, with few people to talk to, would not be my idea of fun. Yet two thousand years ago, it was a group of ordinary shepherds who were among the first to hear of the birth of Jesus. It must have been a pretty amazing thing; there they were, minding their own business looking after their sheep, when all of a sudden, an angel appeared, telling them that the saviour of the world had just been born, to them and all mankind. It’s not surprising they were afraid! In this, the first of a short series of articles looking at how people responded to Jesus, we’ll be looking at the reactions of the shepherds, and seeing what we can learn from them.
The first thing that strikes me about the reactions of the shepherds, is how quickly they dropped what they were doing, and headed off to Bethlehem to see Jesus. Luke doesn’t say that they hung around, making sure that the sheep were okay, debating whether to go or not – he says, “they hurried off.” It must have crossed their mind that they might not have a job, let alone any sheep, to return to, yet they quickly took themselves off to Bethlehem. Who can blame them, though, because the claim that the angel was making was pretty incredible – “today, in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” For good Jews, this would have been amazing news, as the Christ was the Promised One, promised in the Bible, who would come to save them, and now, here was “a great company of the heavenly host,” telling them that the day had come! Perhaps it’s not surprising that they dropped everything and rushed off to find the baby!
The excitement of the shepherds at hearing of the birth of the Promised One continued unabated even after they had seen the birthplace of the baby Jesus – a manger in a stable, not a comfortable bed in a palace. Luke records how after they had seen him, “they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.” They were so amazed and excited at the prospect of the coming of their messiah that they couldn’t help but tell everyone they saw everything they knew. Their excitement was just bubbling up inside them to the point that it boiled over in their every conversation! The people who the shepherds spoke to were amazed at what they heard. I’m sure that a lot of people did not know how to respond to the news they heard – had the shepherds gone mad? Were they over exaggerating? Had they, for some reason, made the story up? Some, no doubt, were overjoyed at the news that God had kept his promise, and sent them a messiah who would save them. Of course, as we see later in the Gospels, many people had the wrong expectations of what the messiah would do, but at the time of Jesus’ birth, those people who believed the shepherds must have felt the ultimate Christmas feeling – excitement, hope and joy. The excitement of the shepherds must have been very contagious!
Luke tells us that the shepherds directed the excitement they felt as a result of the events of that amazing night firmly at God. He tells us that they returned to their sheep, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen.” They recognised that God the creator was at work that night, and had fulfilled his promise. They were so excited that they had to tell everyone about Jesus’ birth, but they knew that it was far more important that they thanked God for the birth of his son. They felt humbled at having witnessed for themselves the birth of Jesus, the Son of God. They felt led to fall down before him and praise him for his work amongst them.
It must have been absolutely fantastic to have been one of the shepherds that night. I bet they were never the same again! We can learn a lot from how they responded to Christ, and perhaps they can be an example to us as we remember Jesus’ birth this Christmas. First of all, the shepherds recognised that Jesus was the Promised One, the Christ, the Messiah. Don’t forget that as you send time with your family and friends this Christmas. It is Jesus’ birth we’re celebrating – the coming of the Messiah who died so that we could be reunited with God. Secondly, look at the excitement that the shepherds felt that night, and afterwards. Sometimes, Christmas can seem like just another family get together, but try to recapture some of that excitement at the birth of Jesus this year. The excitement of the gospel should be exploding from within us too, just as the excitement at the coming of the messiah was bursting out of the shepherds, so do share that excitement with non-Christian friends this year, just as the shepherds did. Carol services are a fantastic opportunity to bring non-believing friends to church to hear the gospel afresh, so do invite friends to the services at your church this year. Finally, amongst all the hustle and bustle of the season, remember to take time just to be quiet and thank God for the gift he has given us. Give him praise and glory, just as the shepherds did. Let’s all try to be more shepherd-like this year.