That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” Luke 2:8-14 (NLT)
“The Charlie Brown Christmas” first introduced me to this verse about the birth of Jesus and began my love of Vince Guaraldi and jazz music. I was in college before I found out this passage didn’t begin with “Lights please.” I still love listening to Vince and the trio.
The shepherds were the truck drivers and red necks of Jesus’ time. The job they did was essential to the life and economy of the time, but the city folks ignored them the best they could. I’m sure they smelled funny and they probably talked funny. I can relate the shepherds. I grew up in a place where the folks were mainly “shepherds.” Good, hard working folks that city folks couldn’t live without. But the city folks would try to ignore them if they could and would laugh about them if they couldn’t. The shepherds lived a pretty solitary life in the fields with their sheep. They would come together at night to a camp, pen their sheep with other flocks and join the other shepherds for company and safety. When this scene begins, they were sitting around their camp fire trading stories and finishing their dinner. Soon they would be kicking out the coals and going to bed.
What happened next would change the shepherds’ lives forever and make them the center of the conversation when someone asked the ice breaker, “What the wildest thing you have ever seen while watching your sheep.” Before we get to that, though, let’s talk about the people who received the angel’s message.
As I mentioned above, the shepherds were the common people. They were social outcasts doing work-a-day jobs. Probably they were shepherds because they were following in their family’s footsteps and there was no other option for them. If you asked them whether they were important to anyone besides the sheep and their family, they would laugh. Yet, these are the very ones God chose to first to hear a message that the Jewish people had been waiting hundreds of years to receive. God had promised a Messiah, one who would lead the Jewish people. If they had time to go to their local synagogue when they were in town, the shepherds may have heard the words of Isaiah announcing the coming of the one who would be called Wonderful Counselor, The Mighty God and Everlasting Father. If they thought about when the blessed event would finally happen, I’m sure they thought they would be the last to find out. The Messiah would certainly arrive in Jerusalem. When he got to Jerusalem, he would go straight to the temple so he could introduce himself to the religious leaders and rich folks and make plans for the restoration of the nation of Israel.
The shepherds didn’t know that, this time around, it was going to be different. This time around, God was going directly to the people. The common folks were about to receive an extraordinary message and the religious leaders were not going to like it when they were not the center of attention. That’s the point of starting with the shepherds. God’s message is for the common folks; the People who are not highly regarded, the left out and the laughed at. The message of Christmas is for people like me, and you.
As you go through the week, finishing up your shopping, cleaning the house, and wrapping gifts, take some time to think about the message, “The Messiah, the Savior, has been born.” And, remember the message is to you. Not “you” meaning a group. “You” meaning you. When they angels declared this message of good news to the shepherds, they weren’t looking over your head to someone else. They were looking you in the eyes.
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