Come to Bethlehem and see Christ Whose birth the angels sing; Come, adore on bended knee, Christ the Lord, the newborn King (1)
One of the best known portions of the Christmas story involves an angelic announcement of Jesus’ birth to a group of shepherds who were looking after their flocks by night. For these shepherds, their night’s work may have started out like any other night’s work- but this night was no ordinary night on the job…
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified” (Luke 2:8-9 NIV).
As a group, shepherds were often considered to be the social outcasts of their day. Their work wasn’t very glamorous and they spent most of their time with a group of animals. A shepherd’s life could also become very isolated, especially since they were not allowed to participate in the various Temple ceremonies. Unfortunately for these shepherds, first century Jewish social life revolved around the Temple (or synagogue) to a large degree.
A shepherd who was not permitted to participate in these activities was someone who was cut out of the social network of the community. And if that wasn’t enough, shepherds were considered to be an unreliable class of people; in fact, they were so mistrusted that they were not even permitted to offer testimony in court.
So the shepherds were a group of outsiders- a collection of people who didn’t fit into the accepted social categories of their day. They were untrusted and looked down upon by others. Yet these were the people whom God chose to receive the announcement of Jesus’ birth.
This part of the Christmas story reminds us that God doesn’t exclude us from a relationship with Him based on our social standing (or lack thereof). It also brings to mind something recorded in the New Testament book of Acts: “…I see very clearly that God shows no favoritism. In every nation he accepts those who fear him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35 NLT).
“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. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger'” (Luke 2:10-12 NIV).
Its important to note that this event was good news for everyone, everywhere. And following this single angel’s announcement, an army of angels suddenly joined together to honor God…
“Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.’
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.’ So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger” (Luke 2:13-16 NIV).
So the shepherds decided to hurry to Bethlehem to see the child that had just been announced to them. Bethlehem was not a very large town so the shepherds probably had little problem in checking from place to place until they finally found the location with infant Jesus, the same one that matched the description that was given to them while they were out in the fields.
While the Scriptures do not tell us how Mary and Joseph responded to this visit from the shepherds, it’s likely that their arrival came as quite a surprise. You can just imagine the astonishment of Mary and Joseph as a group of breathless shepherds suddenly burst in upon them to see the newborn child and to tell them all they had seen and heard concerning Him.
But this part of the Christmas story shouldn’t end before we take a moment to put ourselves in the position of these shepherds. For instance, what could be more impossible to believe than an announcement that Christ the Lord had been born and that He could be found lying in a feedbox inside a shelter for animals? While many people might find that announcement difficult to accept, these men certainly didn’t seem doubtful, skeptical, or unimpressed regarding it- or by what they found in that manger when they followed up on this angelic proclamation.
On the contrary, the next few verses tell us this…
“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 2:17-20 NIV).
To Mary’s credit, she didn’t let the memory of these incredible events pass by. Instead, she collected them, thought about them, and kept them close to her heart. Perhaps it was the joy that Mary associated with these memories that helped sustain her throughout the difficult times that were to follow.
(1) Angels We Have Heard On High Traditional