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 the lessons we can learn.
Matthew 1:18-23 – Mary and Joseph are engaged; Mary is found to be 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 Mary 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) 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
Here’s an excellent article that I’ll just summarize and encourage you to read the entire article, The Real Shepherds of Bethlehem 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! 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 of all, Bethlehem was a beautiful place situated high on a hill from which 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 go into the Temple. As for the shepherds they 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? The ritually “always”-clean priests or perpetually filthy shepherds? We know the answer to that one, don’t we?
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 birthBut Joseph knew the
Reason love had to reach so far…” (Strange Way to Save the World, 4Him)
Don’t forget to check out the full article on The Real Shepherds of 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) Believe…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 an active embracing of 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 what they heard…they did exactly as they were told. “Go and see…” We sometimes 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…obedience! The two can’t be separated.
The third thing the shepherds teach us is that once their faith was made real 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 (Remember my CHRISTmas Memories)! If we enjoy all that but don’t share Jesus—if we fail to speak (by our words and lives) of the real meaning of it all 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 own 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 this…
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 it plays in the CHRISTmas story. Maybe you wake up early one morning and find a place you can watch the sun rise 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!
Make it a great day and God bless in Christ!
This week’s Top 10 CHRISTmas list (Ok so it’s going to be 20) and of course I have to begin with one that tops them all…Handel’s “Messiah.” Hope you find time to listen to and enjoy them all and many others! And be sure to send your favorites!
Top 10 Classical CHRISTmas Songs
- 1) O Holy Night
- 2) I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
- 3) Silent Night
- 4) O Come All Ye Faithful
- 5) Angels We Have Heard on High
- 6) Joy to the World
- 7) O Little Town of Bethlehem
- 8) The Christmas Song
- 10) Sleigh Ride/Silver Bells
Top 10 Contemporary CHRISTmas Songs
- 1) Don’t Save it All for Christmas Day (Avalon)
- 2) Strange Way to Save The World (4Him)
- 3) We are the Reason (Avalon)
- 4) Your Heart is Where Christmas is Found (Truth)
- 5) The Way He Came (Truth)
- 6) Not That Far From Bethlehem (Point of Grace)
- 7) All I Really Want (Steven Curtis Chapman)
- 8) Rose of Bethlehem (Selah)
- 9) Christmas is All in the Heart (Steven Curtis Chapman)
- 10) Tennessee Christmas (Amy Grant and 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 – Take some time this week in preparation for CHRISTmas and read through the Scriptures in this article. As you do think about how each person that was given the news of CHRIST was affected and how they responded. Think about how you would have and are now responding to CHRIST.