Come to Bethlehem and see
Christ Whose birth the angels sing;
Come, adore on bended knee,
Christ the Lord, the newborn King *
One the best known portions of the Christmas story involves an angel’s announcement of Jesus’ birth to a group of shepherds who were in the fields looking after their flocks one 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 generally had a bad reputation and were pretty much considered to be social outcasts in their day. Their work wasn’t very glamorous and they basically spent all day (and sometimes, all night) outside with their stinky, smelly sheep. A shepherd’s life could also become very isolated, especially since they were not allowed to participate in the various Temple ceremonies.
This had a heavy impact on a shepherd because first century Jewish social life revolved around the Temple (or synagogue) to a large degree. Anyone who was not allowed to participate in these activities (like a shepherd, for example) was basically cut out of the social network of their community. And if that wasn’t enough, shepherds were also considered to be very unreliable people; in fact, they weren’t even trusted enough to be allowed to give testimony in court.
So here we have a group of outsiders; a collection of people who didn’t fit into one of the accepted social categories of their day. They were untrusted and looked down upon by others. Yet these were the very same people that God chose first to receive the announcement of Jesus’ birth.
This part of the Christmas story reminds us that God doesn’t exclude people from a relationship with Him based on their social standing (or lack of it) the way that others often do. It also brings to mind something else that God inspired Luke to write as well: “…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).
Notice that the Scripture passage quoted above specifically tells us this angel brought good news of great joy that would be for all the people. In other words, this good news would be for everyone, everywhere. It wasn’t only meant for one group of people or another group of people- it was good news for everyone. 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 made the decision to run off 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 the baby in it, the same one that matched the description that was given to them by the angel while they were out in their fields.
While the Scriptures don’t tell us how Mary and Joseph responded to this visit from the shepherds, it’s likely that their arrival probably came as quite a surprise to them. You can just imagine the astonishment of Mary and Joseph as a group of breathless shepherds suddenly burst in upon them to see the child that had just been born to them and to tell them about all that they had just 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 was a newborn baby and that He could be found lying in a feedbox inside a shelter for animals?
While many people might find that announcement difficult to believe, these men certainly didn’t seem doubtful, skeptical, or unimpressed by it- or by what they found in that manger when they followed up on God’s announcement to them. 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 just pass by. She collected them, thought about them, and kept them close to her heart. Perhaps it was the great joy that Mary associated with these memories that helped to sustain her throughout the difficult times that were later to follow.
* Angels We Have Heard On High Traditional