The shepherds were out in the fields, that night, simply doing their jobs. They were situated on a hillside just outside of Bethlehem watching their flock. We do not know what they did to pass the time. I like to think they sat around the fire and told stories from Scripture and the prophets. Whatever they did it is they likely did not expect what they experienced that evening.
It was on that hillside, so long ago, that the shepherds were greeted by an angel, who approached them as a “stranger.” A fearful sight, indeed, when someone is not expecting a visitor, especially one of a heavenly nature. The angel tells the shepherds that they had no reason to fear. That is because the angel came with an important message for all. A message that would change the world and continues to do so today. The message was an announcement of good news of an event that had occurred in Bethlehem, the City of David. That event was the birth of a child.
This wasn’t the announcement of just any birth. It was the announcement of the Savior’s birth. The long-awaited Messiah, Jesus Christ, is born.
On that night more than 2,000 years ago, these shepherds were the first to hear the news of Jesus’ long-awaited and long-expected birth. Tonight, we have come to celebrate this good news of Savior’s birth, of the one who came to bring about God’s kingdom, of the one who came to offer peace to all. This news gives meaning and purpose to not just this season, but to all things.
As we celebrate, we are invited to experience this good news in, perhaps, the same way that the shepherds did that evening. The shepherds were the first to hear about the announcement of Jesus’ birth. How they encountered this news guides us in to how we might respond to this good news today.
It is ironic, though, that the news of Jesus’ birth was shared, first, with the shepherds. They were an unlikely choice to be the first recipients of this announcement. Today, we like to picture the shepherds as humble workers who were a natural participant at a scene that takes place with the animals. In those times, interacting with the shepherds was not accepted, because they were a despised class of people. Their work was not valued and they were not respected. They were considered dirty and unreligious, because their work prevented them from fulfilling many of the ceremonial laws of the time. Even more, their word had no value to others and they, like the women of the time, were not allowed to give a testimony in the courts.
The fact the angel appears to the shepherds is significant. It tells us about the work this child, this Jesus, came to do. For Jesus came to break down the walls that separated others and invite all people into God’s kingdom. This act of breaking walls down included this angel reaching out to the shepherds and telling them about the good news coming out of Bethlehem.
As the shepherds sat on the hillside, the angel began to inform them of what took place in Bethlehem that night. In a lowly manger, rejected by the world, lied the child who would be the long-awaited Messiah. For centuries, the people of Israel awaited in hope for the Savior to come who redeem the people. The angel tells the shepherds that their wait is over. The Savior has come.
It was an announcement of global importance. The angel uses terminology that would have been familiar to the shepherds, because it would have been akin to the same words used by the Roman Empire to announce the birth of soon-to-be emperor. At that time, Judea and Bethlehem were under the control of the Roman authorities. When a baby was born who would likely grown to become the emperor, messengers were sent all across the empire to share this “good news” of the “savior’s” birth. The Romans believed that it was the emperor who saved them. By using similar words as the Romans, the angel is making an important point to the shepherds. It is not the powers of this world who saves the people. It would be this child, who came to offer himself for others so they may experience a new relationship with the Father. This child is the One who brings true salvation and hope for the world.
What the angel announces is good news that is worthy of praise. That is what the angel does as he is joined by a heavenly chorus that sings a song of praise of worship to this newborn child. They said, “‘Glory to God in highest heaven and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.’” It is a word of praising in response to what God is doing and will do through this child. Jesus came to bring about true peace into the world. A peace from that God offers true hope and reconciliation to all. A peace that brings us closer to the Lord.
A peace the shepherds have been invited to experience. The angels tell the shepherds to leave their flock and head to Bethlehem where they would see a child lying in a manger. This despised group of shepherds, who were often told they were not welcomed by society, where now invited to be the first to see the Prince of Peace, the King of Kings, and the Lord of Lord. After the angel left, the shepherds took up this invitation exactly and went to Bethlehem to “‘see this thing that has happened.’”
Just as the shepherds were invited to experience this child, so are we, tonight, invited to experience what occurred in Bethlehem. The birth of Christ welcomes all people to share in the good news that the long-awaited Messiah and Savior for all people has come. It doesn’t matter who you are: Rich or poor, Democrat or Republican, gay or straight, someone who has been in church all their life or someone who is experiencing this Jesus for the first time. This is good news if for you and all the world. The good news of Christ’s birth invites us all to experience and rejoice in this glorious event.
At the same time, it also invites us, like the shepherds, to see this birth for ourselves. Jesus’ birth calls us to see this event in the depths of our soul. That is what it means to see this birth. We want to see this event with our heart. What do I mean by this? As we go with the Shepherds to Bethlehem and see this child, it does something within us. To experience Jesus in deep way transforms us in the very essence of who we are. This transformation allows us to personally experience the incarnation of Christ. The incarnation of Christ simply means that Christ, Jesus, took on the form of a human and dwelt among us. Experiencing Jesus’ birth invites us to let Jesus live in us and to be transformed by the hope, peace, joy, and love that arrived at his birth. Jesus came to be the light that shines the way a new for us to live. The shepherds experienced this, and so do we as we go to the manager and see what has taken place.
Like the shepherds, though, we cannot simply go to the manger and see what has taken place. After the shepherds saw Jesus for themselves they had to share this event with others. First, they told Mary and Joseph what the angel told them. Then they went out and told anyone who would hear that the long-awaited Messiah had arrived. Luke tells us those who heard the shepherds’ report were astonished. They were amazed because of the good news coming out of the City of David. The shepherds told anyone they could, through their words and actions, of what took place in Bethlehem that a Savior had been born for all people.
So, shall we do the same. Tonight we have sung familiar carols, read the story of Jesus’ birth, and heard how the shepherds interacted with this good news. In a way, we have gone to Bethlehem and saw, with our eyes and hearts, that the Messiah has come. The news of Christ’s birth demands a response like that of the shepherds to go out and tell the world the of good news that Christ is born. As followers of Christ, that is our call especially in a time that is so desperate for the words of hope, peace, joy, and love that came with Christ.
We live this out by living like how the shepherds did after they left the manager. By our words, actions, and deeds do we share with others of the hope, peace, joy, and love of Christ that arrived at Jesus’ birth. We do this by the way the way we live in response to Jesus’ birth and the very essence of that birth and life transforming us into the image that God desires for us.
The message of Christmas and Christ’s birth is not one that can be kept for ourselves. It must be shared with others, whether the richest of the rich or the poorest of the poor, those who believe they have their life together, or those who struggle with life. Christmas cries out for us to be like the shepherds who experienced the birth of Christ. Their lives were never the same. They became transformed in the depths of their soul. Our lives, as well, are never the same when we have experience the hope, peace, joy, and love that comes from Jesus. The shepherds made it their mission to tell others about Jesus and to share good news with others.
What will we do in response to Jesus’ birth? How will we live our lives in such a way that all people will be able to hear the good news that in the city of David a Child was born who would offer salvation, peace, and reconciliation to all? How will Christmas inspire us and how we live today?