For many of us, the story of Christ’s birth has been a part of our Christmas traditions for as long as we can remember. In those cases, it’s easy to gloss over some of the details of the story because we’re so familiar with it. For others, perhaps the nativity story wasn’t part of your early childhood memories, and you’re just learning what the Christmas season is truly about. Whatever the case may be, there is a group of people mentioned in the Christmas story who we can learn a lot from.
The story of Christ’s birth is one of the most powerful stories in Scripture. While it’s easy for us to gloss over it due to our familiarity with the story, there are multiple life-changing truths contained within this tale of God taking on the form of humanity so that humanity could enter into a relationship with God.
The night that Christ was born appeared to be just like any other night. The background of the story is relatively basic. By the time we get to the nativity story, Mary and Joseph had both been told by an angel that they were going to be the earthly parents of God’s Son. They had each accepted their roles and found themselves going to Bethlehem to pay the taxes that had been put into law by Caesar Augustus. When they arrived in Bethlehem, there was no lodging available, so they were relegated to the barn behind one of the homes.
Even if the people at the inn recognized that Mary was pregnant, they obviously had no idea that she was carrying Immanuel, God with us. Mary and Joseph made their way into the stable, which history teaches us was probably carved into the side of a mountain and planned to spend the night there. Then, it happened. Mary went into labor, and the King of Kings made his first appearance in the world.
There was no celebration, at least not at the birthplace. Joseph and Mary were not surrounded by friends and family members. In fact, they had to believe that the only people that knew of the birth were themselves and God. However, there was a declaration made. Somewhere, probably on the outskirts of the city, an angelic host descended from Heaven and made a public declaration that Christ had come, and the world had access to joy unspeakable.
The proclamation of his birth wasn’t delivered to the royal class. Even though Jesus would eventually spend most of his time with fishermen, the skilled laborers of the time weren’t the first to hear about His birth. Instead, the angels appeared to a group of shepherds.
The shepherds are some of the most underrated members of the nativity story. There are some things that we can learn from the shepherds that are not only applicable at Christmas, but have a bearing on our lives all year long.
Luke 2:8-9 (NLT)
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.
In order to understand the ramifications of the angels first appearing to the shepherds, we need to consider some historical information. Shepherds didn’t matter in the eyes of society during Biblical times. Take a moment and think back to the life of David. When Samuel, the prophet, arrived at Jesse’s house to anoint the new King of Israel, Jesse brought in all his older sons. They were bigger, stronger, faster, and better looking than David. That’s part of why he had been relegated to shepherding duty. On the surface, it didn’t look like he had much else to offer.
After God had told Samuel that none of the older sons were the right choice, he asked Jesse if he had more children. Jesse responded, “I have one, but he’s out in the field watching the sheep.” Shepherds meant nothing.
Years later, when David would go out to battle against Goliath, one of his older brothers demeaned his occupation by pointing out that David must have left those “few sheep in the field.” Shepherds meant nothing.
Shepherds meant nothing in the eyes of society, but God chose them to be the first people who would hear about the birth of His Son. He didn’t care about how society viewed the shepherds. Instead, He knew that His Son would be “The Good Shepherd.”
The fact that the shepherds were the first people to hear about Christ’s birth is wonderful news for us. It means that even if the world doesn’t know our name, God does. It means that even if we’ve never seen our names up in lights, God has a detailed account of our lives written in Heaven. It means that even when we feel like we don’t matter, God sent His Son specifically for us. If the shepherds mattered to God, you matter to God.
It’s OK to Not Be OK
Luke 2:9-10 (NLT)
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.”
“They were terrified.” Wouldn’t you be? Put yourself in the shoes of the shepherds for a moment. It’s late at night, you’re sitting in the field, and the sheep are sleeping. Some of your coworkers have probably nodded off at such a late hour, and all of a sudden, the sky lights up with a glow like you have never seen before. An angel, a massive heavenly being, suddenly appears in the sky, hovering over your field, and he is talking to you!
They were terrified, and they had every right to be. However, the first thing the angel told them was that they didn’t have to be afraid. God wasn’t angry that the shepherds were scared. He wasn’t put off by their lack of recognition of who was before them. Instead, He spoke through the angel to calm their fears before delivering them the greatest news that anyone would ever receive.
God doesn’t turn His back when you’re terrified. He doesn’t run away from your lack of faith or your failure to recognize His presence. Instead, He calms your fears and then proceeds to encourage you. That’s just what He does.
Just Do It
When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child.
For years, Nike, the most recognizable shoe brand in the world, had a slogan that encouraged their customers to “just do it.” This slogan encouraged people to look at what appeared to be impossible, and to just go for it.
That’s what the shepherds did. What they had seen didn’t make sense to them, but they didn’t let that stop them. When they heard that Christ had come, they had to go see it for themselves. Once they saw Him, they had to tell other people about it.
When you recognize the presence of God in your life, there is no stopping you from pursuing it. When you encounter Him, you can’t help but share that good news with others. If you’re feeling afraid, just do it!
A Closing Prayer:
Heavenly Father, thank You for including the shepherds in the story of Your Son’s birth. Thank You for what their presence in the story, and their faith in You teaches me. Thank You for taking the time to care about everyone, and for providing Your Son for us all. Give me the courage to share His Good News with others. In Christ’s name, Amen.