And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them. Luke 2:18-20
Have you ever stopped to ponder how those involved in the very first CHRISTmas would have responded? Zechariah, Elizabeth, Mary, Joseph, shepherds? God’s Word shares with us how they responded even though most of them were shocked and maybe even a bit (or a lot) fearful of what it meant to them. What has CHRISTmas and CHRIST meant to you?
CHRISTmas Players (Luke 2:1-20)
Let me take you back to that first CHRISTmas and just briefly recount the well-known narratives and names. Then I want to spend the better part of this article on a part of the story that you may have never heard and what we can learn from the lowliest of players in the CHRISTmas story…
Matthew 1:18-23 – Mary and Joseph engaged; Mary gets pregnant; Joseph chooses to privately divorce Mary which was an honorable thing as he could have had her stoned or exiled from the country and family; the prophecy of a virgin birth is fulfilled and the name of God’s Son through the angel to Mary and Joseph is revealed.
Luke 2:1-20 – the famous CHRISTmas narrative of Caesar Augustus’ census that brought Joseph and Mary to Bethlehem and a stable where Jesus would be born in a manger and wrapped in swaddling (poor man’s cloths – many think it was the cloths used to wrap the baby lambs…think about that!?!) likely in a cave or barn that was a stable for animals to fulfill a several hundred year old prophecy; angels and shepherds which bring me to the story I want to focus on as alluded to earlier.
The Real Shepherds of Bethlehem (adapted from a story by Nick Harris)
The shepherds keeping watch over the flocks near Bethlehem would have been quite out of the ordinary. Because of the stench the sheep were normally kept miles from towns and villages. There was one great exception to this and it just so happened to be Bethlehem at this specific time of the year! Imagine that…and even more so think about how God brought all of this together?
The shepherds that “resided” in Bethlehem, along with the very large flock, was specifically culled out for one purpose only. These were set apart as “perfect” one-year old lambs, belonging to and declared so, by the High Priests to be sacrificed in the Temple! This was the High Priest’s flock and shepherds! These were the Passover lambs!
This was likely the largest herd of sheep and required a great number of shepherds to tend them…right there in Bethlehem. You think God may have been orchestrating something all along?
Two other key components regarding Bethlehem and the shepherds…First, Bethlehem was beautifully situated high on a hill and you could see in all directions.
Second, the shepherds were monitored by the temple priests, seeing as how these sheep belonged to the High Priest and were for Passover. Typically any shepherd (or anyone else) who defiled himself by mingling with the sheep was considered filthy and unclean and therefore unable to enter into the Temple.
The priests would “watch over” the shepherds “below” from the MIGDAL EDER or “Tower of the Flock.” In this way they remained ritually clean and certainly “high above” the filthy shepherds so they could enter the Temple. The shepherds who mingled with the sheep remained filthy and were considered unclean and could not enter the Temple or “God’s presence.”
Hmm…wonder who God might select to be the first to actually enter into His presence and kneel before the newborn Baby King…God in the flesh? The ritually “always”-clean priests or perpetually filthy shepherds? We know the answer.
And God’s answer and plan would have been truly shocking, but as one song says,
“To think of how it could have been
If Jesus had come as He deserved
There would have been no Bethlehem
No lowly shepherds at His birth
But Joseph knew the
Reason love had to reach so far…”
(From Strange Way to Save the World, 4Him)
For more on this, check out this article on the flocks and shepherds in Bethlehem. With all of this in mind I believe there is much that we can learn from them when it comes to our response to Christ and God’s message to us.
The Gospel According to the Shepherds
So often in the CHRISTmas story, we focus on the main characters: Mary, Joseph, and of course, Jesus. But through the short account in Luke 2:8–20, there are four things we can learn from the shepherds that should make the top of our to-do list this and every CHRISTmas, and for that matter, every day of our lives!!!
1) Belief…The angels announced in spectacular fashion that the Messiah was born. As soon as the angels left, the shepherds looked at each other and said: “What are we waiting for? Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened.”
No debate. No procrastination. They don’t decide to sleep on it. They don’t go to the local library (or Temple as they wouldn’t have been given access anyway) to research or ask questions. They just believed. That’s faith. Scripture says without faith it’s impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). The angel said, “Peace on earth among people with whom he is pleased.” Who is that? It’s those who respond to God’s gift through faith. Scripture also says, “For by grace you are saved, through faith, not of works for it is a Gift of God….” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Faith means you say yes to all that God did through Christ. Yes, he is the Savior of the world. Yes, he came to die for my sins. Yes, through him I find forgiveness and new life. Yes, I want Christ as my Lord. If you’re not sure, what are you waiting for?
Faith isn’t a spectator sport; it’s actively embracing all that God has promised and given us in Christ. Which is the second thing the Shepherds teach us…
2) Obedience…The shepherds didn’t just talk about it…they did exactly as they were told. “Go and see…” We often think of CHRISTmas as a tame holiday…“the sweet baby Jesus asleep on the hay.” Everyone loves that because it’s so innocuous and safe. CHRISTmas isn’t safe! Maybe we would react as they did if angels appeared to us…BUT, wait a minute…WE HAVE HIS WORD! Are we responding in faith…not just showing up at Church but also living it out daily?
That Baby was/and still is the King of kings and the Lord of lords and the angels and His Word tell us the same thing!!! He came to usher in a kingdom that rivals the worldly kingdom – against culture, against the flesh, against self. That’s threatening. He bids those who would follow him to take up their cross daily—to lay aside our own right and deception to rule ourselves and surrender to His rule.
Just as with the shepherds, we can only know/see the Lord through Obedience (FAITH in action – the only real Faith!)…THINK ABOUT THIS – from the time they heard from the angel(s), walking from the fields of Bethlehem, the City of David (City of the King), every step of the way they took in faith based only on what the angel had said. Not until they completed their journey and arrived at the lowly stable, and entered into the filth and stench did their faith become sight. Unless they had walked in Faith they would have never seen the Babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in the manger. The same is true of us…and our walk of Faith. Unless we continue in it we will not see the King. That’s what the shepherds taught us by walking out their belief in Faith until they SAW Him!
The world loves to celebrate ‘CHRISTmas’, but they hate to obey him as Lord of their lives. Everyone wants to keep Christ in the manger. But the manger is meaningless apart from the Cross and the Tomb…and His Lordship in our lives!
Ben Franklin stated over 200 years ago…“How many observe Christ’s birthday! How few, His precepts! O! ‘tis easier to keep Holidays than Commandments.”
CHRISTmas is a time for Faith…for obedience! The two can’t be separated.
The third thing the shepherds teach us is that with real faith they…
3) Told others…When the shepherds arrived in Bethlehem and saw the child lying in the feed trough, “they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child.” They weren’t preachers; or missionaries…that didn’t matter. They had heard and seen something that meant salvation for the whole world.
CHRISTmas trees, eggnog, and exchanging of gifts are fine (Check out CHRISTmas Memories from last week)! If we enjoy all the trappings but don’t know and share Jesus—if we fail to speak (words and actions) of the real meaning as the Shepherds did; if we neglect to tell others that this Child is Savior and Lord, sent by God to die on the Cross to purchase our deliverance from sin, death, and satan with His royal, divine, human blood; if we neglect to share CHRIST, we miss CHRISTmas.
The angel said that this is “good news of great joy, which shall be for all the people.” If we truly believe it we must share this Good News…this joy.
Finally, the ‘Bethlehem, Passover shepherds’ taught us to…
4) Experience the Holy Wonder…The shepherds were overwhelmed at the angel’s announcement. They experienced holy wonder.
How can we engage in holy wonder? Maybe that means you stop in the middle of your shopping, sit down, and read the CHRISTmas story. Maybe you gather your children around a Nativity scene each night and focus on a particular player or event and the role he/she plays in the CHRISTmas story. Maybe you wake up early one morning and find a place to watch the sunrise as you meditate on Luke 1:76–79…
76 And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, 77 to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, 78 because of the tender mercy of our God by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven79 to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace.”
The work of holy wonder is treasuring and pondering that God invaded Earth on a dangerous rescue mission. Let’s do the same…let’s engage in holy wonder.
The shepherds departed, rejoicing in all they’d seen as “everything was exactly as they had been told” (Luke 2:20). The same Truth the angels gave the shepherds is in God’s Word for us to experience Holy Wonder and share it with others!
Love and Lordship…Food for Thought – Isn’t it interesting that Mary, Joseph, the shepherds and all involved faced a decision when they heard about God’s plan for CHRISTmas and then a response as it became a reality. What about you? What has been your response to Christ in your heart and life?
Love and Lordship…Action Item –
- Read the Scriptures in this article and ask The Holy Spirit to teach you.
- How does the story of the Real Shepherds of Bethlehem impact your understanding of CHRISTmas?
- What part of the Gospel or CHRISTmas Story according to the shepherds describes where you are with Christ?
- If you know Christ as Savior and Lord, share Him! If not, find someone to help you fully experience the Greatest Gift Ever Given! Contact us at L&L.
- Highly recommend that you take the time to watch this with your family and loved ones…Christmas With The Chosen – https://watch.angelstudios.com/thechosen/livestream?id=93
BONUS: This week’s Top CHRISTmas list…this week we look at the Top 5 Stressors and how to find peace according to The Prince of Peace and His Word…
5) Calendars – Schedules and Busyness – We all know what it means to “spread our self too thin.” Stop! Do what you can and let go of the rest…you’ll be much more at peace – Matthew 6:34 says, “don’t worry about tomorrow.” Great advice, so don’t pile on by adding too much to your calendar.
4) Checkbooks and Credit Cards – The Budget – Here’s another problem similar to our calendar woes…not only don’t do too much but don’t spend too much. Proverbs 22:7 states, “the borrower (credit cards) is a slave to the lender.” Set your budget and stick with it…you’ll be much happier and at peace in the end.
3) History – Ghosts of CHRISTmas past – many struggle with memories of family brokenness, bad relationships, loss of loved ones, etc., which dampens the CHRISTmas spirit. How clever of the enemy to use the very thing CHRISTmas was to bring…Hope, Joy, Peace and Love…and turn them on their head! Remember the message to the shepherds and apply it to your situation – Luke 2:8-14. Choose Christ and don’t let others dictate your peace and joy!
2) Family – in-laws and outlaws, marriage, children and making it all work. How do you look at those in your family, blood relatives and in-laws, regardless of how they act? You can choose to honor, respect and love them even if they don’t deserve it…just like Christ did for us when He came at CHRISTmas. As a matter of fact, He came out of Love, because we needed a Savior, even though we didn’t deserve it – Isaiah 9:6; John 3:16!
1) Image – Do we have as much or look as good as everyone else? This may be at the core of many, if not all, of the above so if we can solve this one we might solve them all. Contentment is the key to laying down pride, ego and “keeping up with the Joneses” especially at CHRISTmas. 1 Timothy 6:6-10 gives great wisdom as to what’s really important and the peace and contentment that come with knowing Christ. Make it a great CHRISTmas season with family and loved ones in and for The Lord (Matthew 1:21-23)!