A BIRTH IS ANNOUNCED
Generous God, your grace is given to me without measure or price. I have an unfailing reason to bless your name.
Read LUKE 2:8-21
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
21 On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘Hark the herald angels sing, / “Glory to the new-born King”.’1
This is not your normal evening of shepherding. Everything is fine, nothing out of the ordinary – and then suddenly up pops an angel. Terror is a perfectly reasonable response. It has been suggested that shepherds in Israel were disreputable, ritually unclean and beyond the pale. In reality, shepherds had an honorable, if low status, occupation. Shepherding is a metaphor for both kingly and divine activity;2 Jesus is happy to take the title for himself3 and shepherds would have been responsible for looking after the lambs required for sacrifice. In terms of status, they are a far cry from Augustus and Quirinius (vs 1,2) – or indeed from the Magi4 – but they are the first outside the family to hear the news.
If the appearance of the angel is confusing, their message is even more so. The arrival of the Savior, Messiah, and Lord (v 11) is a cause for joy (v 10), but the instruction to search for a baby wrapped in cloths (probably a sign of relative poverty) and lying in a manger jars. However, as the arrival of the angelic host underlines, this is what Israel has been waiting for. The shepherds’ response is exemplary. Not only do they go as instructed, find everything as the angel had said, and respond with praise (v 20) but they tell others what they have experienced. No doubt many thought them foolish, as they do us when we tell what we have discovered of Jesus, but that did not stop them.
The shepherds model one response that we could usefully imitate; Mary provides another. She had plenty to think about before the appearance of a group of shepherds. Now she has more – and it’s a reasonable assumption that she also heard the angels’ praise. She notes these things and files them away, reflecting on them to tease out their meaning (v 19).
What will you hold in your mind and meditate on this Christmas season?
Lord, forgive my doubts, and renew my faith and trust in you. I rejoice that with you all things are possible.
1 Charles Wesley, 1707–88 2 E.g. Pss 23:1; 78:70–72 3 John 10:1–21 4 Matt 2:1
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