In the synoptic gospels, Luke 2:8-20, Dr. Luke records the glorious announcement that Jesus Christ had been born in Bethlehem. There was nothing ordinary about this special message. It was delivered by angels to a group of common shepherds on a Judean countryside when it was so unexpected, their night vision was overcome by the brilliant light of God’s glory that flashed all around them and scared them to death.
The shepherds play an important part of the Christmas narrative, and they have become popular characters in our modern traditions. Shepherd figurines adorn storefronts, lawn displays and nativity scenes. We sing about shepherds in many of our popular Christmas carols and they are always in nativity displays.
Even though we read of the shepherds in the biblical narrative and are reminded of them throughout the Christmas season, have you ever stopped to consider who they are, the role they play and what we can learn from them?
We actually don’t know much about the shepherds who are referenced in Luke’s account, but can you put yourself in their place on that first Christmas night? As they faithfully kept watch over their flock, angels suddenly appeared to inform that the promised Messiah has been born in Bethlehem (Luke 2:8-14).
Most of us would expect that such a message would first be proclaimed to those with more status and nobility rather than to lowly shepherds who probably didn’t even own the sheep they were tending. Yet, according to John 3:16, the announcement of Christ’s birth serves as a reminder that Jesus came for all people, whether they be rich or poor, male or female, whatever their race, ethnicity or skin color.
The initial fear that the shepherds experienced soon turned to joy after hearing the angels’ message. And the message that the shepherds heard moved them to respond. Scripture tells us that they hurriedly went to see the newborn Jesus (Luke 2:15-16). Scripture also records that after they spent some time with Mary, Joseph and Jesus, the shepherds shared the message they had received about Jesus, and everyone who heard what the shepherds had to say were “amazed” (Luke 2:17-18). Finally, the shepherds returned “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had seen and heard” (Luke 2:20).
These shepherds can be considered the first evangelists who proclaimed the good news about Jesus to those around them. Christ followers that take pride in our American heritage need to remind ourselves that Jesus was not a white Anglo-Saxon and His gospel made its way to us by individuals who came from another country. Today they would be referred to as immigrants. Aren’t we glad that some immigrants, in the providence and sovereignty of God, made it possible for us to hear the story of Jesus first proclaimed by the shepherds of Christmas?
As we celebrate and worship Christ this Christmas, may we, like the shepherds, proclaim Him to all people living around us including those from other nations of the world. Merry Christmas!
“Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.’” — Luke 2:10 (NKJV)