O Come, Let Us Adore Him – Advent Day 20 – The Shepherd’s Story
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. (Luke 2:8-20)
“Shepherds watching over their flock by night” is a phrase most of us are familiar with. It brings to mind a night sky full of stars, a hilltop dotted with sheep, and shepherds quietly tending their flocks. But on this night, a bright light suddenly appeared and everything was different; people were changed by an encounter with the Lord. Men who would otherwise have run away terrified became messengers for God, spreading the good news of the Savior’s birth. The account above is more than just a story we tell on Christmas Eve; it speaks of miracles, of lives changed, and the truth of the Messiah having come at long last.
Why was this night different from all other nights the shepherds had spent tending their flocks? Why did God choose these men to tell the news? No explanation is given—just a message of good tidings. On that night the shepherds were confronted by God’s heavenly host, and they were terrified at the incredible sight of awesome power. I imagine their initial reaction might have been to run. But the angel spoke and told them of a truth they had been waiting centuries for.
Being from the region of Bethlehem, a Jewish town, these shepherds would have been raised hearing of the coming Messiah and would not be unfamiliar with the prophecies surrounding Him. So despite their fear, they listened and acted. Immediately after hearing the angel’s message, they “went with haste” in search of the Child, and found Mary, Joseph, and the babe. They heard God’s word and without much deliberation made a choice. It appears they were not hesitant to drop what they were doing, leave their flocks, and go in search of a baby in a manger. Did they search several inns? How long did it take to find the babe? We are not given these details, but if we were to put ourselves in their shoes, maybe we would have thought about giving up. They did not, but continued their search until they found the One they were searching for. Finding the angel’s words to be true, they simply worshipped Him. The Messiah had come at long last! Because they listened and acted, they returned changed, worshipping God and giving Him glory.
I want to take a minute to look at this story through a different lens, and how it relates to our salvation. Each person in the story of Jesus’ birth had an encounter with God, with the opportunity to ignore it or act on it. When the shepherds had an encounter with God and were presented with an undeniable truth, they took it to heart and made it top priority to act on it, forever changing them. Mary had her own encounter with God’s heavenly messenger, and she treasured these things in her heart. Joseph and even the Magi were approached in some way by God, and they listened and acted on what they heard. And so it is for us; God is reaching out to each of us, in a less tangible way than He did at that time but just as personal. The same choice is presented to us: act on it or ignore Him.
God is presenting His truth to each of us now, calling us to Himself, desiring us to accept the truth of the Savior and His work accomplished on the cross for us. He does not force us, though; He wants us to choose Him, to desire Him. His plan is for us to be changed by His Word, to make it our top priority, and to live a life for Him. The shepherds heard the truth, took it to heart and acted on it immediately; they did not wait for a more convenient time. If they had, they would have missed the Savior entirely. And because of this they were forever changed. I implore you to be like the shepherds, hear the truth God is speaking to you, and act immediately. “Behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). Christmas is about a birth, and you can be born again into newness of life this very day.