In the same region
there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over
their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them,
and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly
But the angel said
to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy
which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has
been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for
you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
And suddenly there
appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and
saying, “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom
He is pleased.”
When the angels had
gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds began saying to one another,
“Let us go straight to Bethlehem
then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to
So they came in a
hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the
manger. When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had
been told them about this Child. 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 2:8-20 NASB)
I was just a kid when it happened, barely old enough to be out in
the fields with the older shepherds. For the first time, my dad had said
that I could stay with them all night. I was so excited! It was around the
time of the Fall Feasts and we were tending the Temple
flocks in the fields outside of
Bethlehem. Later, people would try to say that the
story I’m about to tell you took place in December, but that’s crazy because
nobody would have had their sheep in the open fields that far into winter.
It was too cold and a sudden storm could put them all in grave danger.
No shepherd could afford to take that risk even with ordinary
sheep, and these sheep were different from all others. The priests bred them
especially for use as sacrifices in the
Temple. Because of this, they had to be perfect, not
a spot or blemish anywhere on their bodies. These were lambs whose only
purpose in being born was to die as an offering for the sins of the people.
They were very valuable and watching them was important work.
You see, sheep are prone to wandering. It’s the shepherd’s job to
keep track of them, and to bring them back when they stray. We also keep the
predators at bay, the wolves that would sneak in among the flock and carry
the weak ones off. We’re responsible for them, and it’s our job to see that
none are lost.
After dinner we were getting the camp ready for the night, making
one last check to be sure that all the sheep were accounted for and weren’t
being distracted by the torch light from the constant stream of visitors in
the distance heading for the town.
Bethlehem was more crowded than I’d ever seen it because the governor had
called for a census and everyone in Israel who was descended from King
David had to come here to register. David had lived almost a thousand years
earlier, and had four wives, so you can imagine how many descendants he had,
and they were all coming to
Bethlehem. Our little town was filled to overflowing
and some had given up even trying to find rooms.
That’s another good reason this story couldn’t have happened in
the dead of winter. People just couldn’t travel then, it was too cold and
wet to camp in the fields along the way. Remember, some had to travel
several days, all the way from beyond the Galilee
up north, to get here.
I remember that we’d just settled down by the fire when an angel
of the Lord suddenly appeared to us from out of nowhere. I was terrified!
I’d never seen anything like it. But I wasn’t the only one. Even the
seasoned veterans were scared. But the angel spoke to us and said, “Do not
be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people.
Today in the town of David
a Savior has been born to you. He is Messiah, the Lord! This will be a sign
to you. You will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a
Suddenly the star filled sky opened up and a great company of
angels appeared with him. They were all praising God and singing,
“Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth peace to men with whom He is
There’s no way I could even begin to describe the sound of that
choir. A couple of times later in my life I heard the musicians that rich
people hired to help them celebrate when their first son was born, but not
even the wealthiest King could have afforded a choir like this one. The
music caused us to lift our faces and our hands to the heavens. It filled
our ears and our hearts and was by far the most beautiful sound I ever heard
in all my life.
When they faded away and left us we just stood there for a minute
looking at each other, our eyes filled with wonder, tears of joy streaming
down the weathered cheeks of my father and his friends. They’d of course
heard all the talk about a Messiah, but none of them ever expected to see
Him. And now, not only would we see Him; we would be the first! One minute
we were finishing up a long shepherd’s day just like always, and the next we
were witnessing the invasion of Earth by Heaven itself. Eternity had entered
time and the Son of God had become the Son of Man, almost right before our
eyes. This had been my first day as a real shepherd, and there would never
be another one like it.
Mindful of our responsibility, we left a couple of our number to
watch the sheep, and the rest of us took off for Bethlehem in search of the sign the angel had
told us to look for. And sure enough, in a stable behind the inn at the edge
of town, we found them.
A man with the clothing and calloused hands of the working class
stood protectively over a radiant but obviously exhausted young woman who
didn’t look much older than I was. In the manger before her was a baby, a
normal looking healthy baby boy. “Can this be what God looks like,” I
thought, “He’s just a baby.” Like most people, I expected that if I ever saw
God He’d be a giant Warrior King with a huge sword and a menacing look. This
baby looked so fragile.
Others were beginning to gather around as well, because we’d
shouted at everyone we saw on the way in to follow us. Now we told them the
whole story of what we’d experienced in the field with the angel and the
choir, and that we had come to town to see for ourselves if what we heard
was true. They were all amazed and couldn’t stop talking about it, but the
new mother just sat there with her baby as if she was soaking up every
detail of this most blessed of all blessed events. I’ll never forget the
look in her eyes or the expression on her face.
Having seen the proof the angel told us to look for, we went back
to our flocks, praising God and giving Him Glory, and thanking Him for
letting humble shepherds like us be the first to see the Christ child. It
was ironic, wasn’t it, that we who spent our lives tending lambs born to die
for the sins of the Temple worshipers, should be the first to see The Lamb,
born to die for the sins of the whole world.
The man, who I found out was named Joseph, and the woman Mary
stayed in Bethlehem
through the winter. Remember, I said that no one travels voluntarily after
late fall, especially heading north with a new born baby. They found a house
and settled in.
Some time later there was a big fuss as a caravan of rich priests
called Magi arrived from Parthia,
a country near Israel
that had been part of the Persian Empire.
They called the baby the King of the Jews, gave him expensive gifts and
money, and bowed down before Him to worship. Somebody said the Magi had been
waiting for this time since the Hebrew Prophet Daniel had told them about it
500 years earlier. They had handed the secret down from father to son
through all that time. People even said the money was Daniel’s personal gift
to the Messiah.
After the Magi left, things were quiet again for a few days, but
then Joseph suddenly took Mary and the baby away secretly in the middle of
the night. The next morning Herod’s soldiers swept into town, searching from
house to house, killing all the male babies. They were looking for Him
because Herod didn’t want any competition for the throne, but He was gone.
We heard that Joseph had been warned in a dream and had taken Mary and the
baby south to Egypt where they
could hide from Herod. It’s a good thing those Magi had come. Their gifts
paid for the family’s escape and their stay in Egypt.
The next time I heard about the baby was 30 years later, after we
had both grown up. People were talking about a prophet named Jesus
They said He might be the Messiah. I remembered that Joseph and Mary had
come from there, and so I decided to investigate. Walking north for several
days I finally found Him by the Sea of Galilee
and as I listened to Him speak, my heart was filled with hope. I especially
liked how He called Himself our shepherd. He promised to keep us from
wandering, and to protect us from predators who would try to steal us away.
And He swore that He’d never lose a single one of us, just like we promised
the owners of the sheep we watched. I knew in my heart He really was the
Later, I was there in
when He was executed. As He breathed His last, I became convinced that I’d
see Him again just like He promised. Three days later I did see Him, and
knew that all of the angel’s promises had come true in the life, death, and
resurrection of the Baby from
Bethlehem. He wasn’t the King we expected, but He was
the One we needed. He was our Savior, our Messiah.
Looking back on that night, I realize that many will never
understand what happened there. I was an eyewitness and I barely understand
it myself. But I know this. On that night in
a group of shepherds became sheep, and the Lamb of God became our Shepherd.
Merry Christmas. 12-17-11