Three weeks into the New Year and the Christmas lights that had once illuminated our homes and neighborhoods have been taken down and put away until next Christmas. On our streets where once there was brilliance and color, there’s now only darkness. This metaphorically speaks of our dark world and how the Christmas season only seems to splash a momentary ray of light into it. The light of Jesus Christ is life-changing and is meant to light at all times, not just at the time of year we celebrate His birth. We only have to revisit the Christmas story and the experience of the shepherds to discover what this is all about. So before we get too far from Christmas, let’s return to Bethlehem and revisit those shepherds and learn from their experiences on that night so long ago.
In Luke 2, we read that after a virgin named Mary had given birth to her firstborn named Jesus and laid Him in a manger:
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 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. 10 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. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 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.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them (English Standard Version).
Let’s first consider the occupation. While we don’t know why God chose to share the best news in life— the news of His Son, the Savior, being born into the world—first to these shepherds, a better question might be why would He share it today with you and me? The truth of the matter is no one is worthy of receiving the news of Jesus Christ. No honored king or esteemed religious leader would be worthy of any word from God because of the fact that we are all sinners who have turned our backs on God. To know that God chose to first tell these lowly shepherds speaks not only of His transcendent grace that is able to reach anyone at any time in their lives, but also of God reaching down to the least among us in this world. Shepherds were the outcasts of their time, just as the tax-collector and the prostitute were the unlikely company of Jesus when He shared the good news to them during His ministry some thirty years later.
Next we’ll notice the illumination and proclamation. In the dark of night, an angel appeared to the shepherds and the glory of the Lord shone around them. From the humdrum of life, the shepherds were awakened to something greater—much greater—than themselves. In your darkness and in mine, God will also shine the light of the gospel, which should humble us as it did to these shepherds. But whereas the shepherds heard from the Lord’s angel that night, today we hear this news directly from God Himself through the Holy Spirit who guides us into all truth. Just as the angel’s light shone in the physical darkness, it’s the Holy Spirit who offers truth to you and me that shines in our spiritual darkness. The shepherds were in awe of God’s messenger stooping down and revealing truth to them. Are you and I in awe every time we read the Bible and God’s presence and Spirit reveals truth to us? With God’s presence came the birth announcements of all birth announcements: “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.” We’ll notice first that the universal offer of the gift; then the personal nature of it. The angel declared the good news of great joy for “all the people,” then to the shepherds, he said, “For unto you…” This is also true today: Jesus is indeed the Savior of the world, but He is also given to be the personal Savior for you and for me.
Having been told of the birth of Christ their Savior and then seeing the angels return to heaven, the shepherds then make a determination that leads to a revelation: “‘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.” You and I too have been told of Jesus; what do you and I do as a result? The shepherds were told by an angel, a messenger of God. We have been told by God Himself from His Word, for the entire Bible points to Jesus, His miraculous birth, His perfect life, His sacrificial death, His everlasting Spirit, and His imminent return. Whereas God knew the pride and evil inside the heart of King Herod that would have rejected an invitation to be at the stable that night, God also knew the humble hearts of those shepherds who gladly accepted the invitation and sought Jesus. God knows my heart and He knows yours today, and He still speaks through His Word, the Bible, right where we are, in our workplaces, in our homes, and in our communities. The question is: are we humble enough to listen and respond to what He has to say, knowing that He has promised “you will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
As a result of God’s confirmation to them (“when they saw it”), the shepherds burst in both declaration and adoration. “And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” When you and I take God for His Word and seek the Savior He has sent, we too will find Him, “as it had been told them.” And just as these shepherds became the first evangelists to proclaim the good news, we too will be led to boldly declare what God has done and we will adore Him because of it. Having been humbled at the reality of the living God stooping down to tell us of the good news of Jesus Christ, we will respond by joyfully obeying the now risen Lord who commanded us to “go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation” (Mark 16:15).
After seeing the light of the world, the shepherds leave the pages of Scripture transformed as lights in their own worlds. So as you and I wander through the dark streets of our world, let us remember that Jesus says to us who believe: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16, ESV). May you and I light up our worlds, as the shepherds did theirs, with the message of God’s grace and the news of the Savior who has come! Happy New Year!