December 17 – While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night

While shepherds watched their flocks by night,
All seated on the ground,
The angel of the Lord came down,
And glory shone around.

“Fear not!” said he, for mighty dread
Had seized their troubled mind;
“Glad tidings of great joy I bring
To you and all mankind.

“To you, in David’s town, this day
Is born of David’s line
A Savior, who is Christ the Lord,
And this shall be the sign:

“The heav’nly Babe you there shall find
To human view displayed,
All meanly wrapped in swathing bands,
And in a manger laid.”

Thus spake the seraph and forthwith
Appeared a shining throng
Of angels praising God on high,
Who thus addressed their song:

“All glory be to God on high,
And to the Earth be peace;
Good will henceforth from heav’n to men
Begin and never cease!”

By Nahum Tate  –  1700

Luke 2:8-18    (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, 10 but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! 12 And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,

14 “Glory to God in highest heaven,
    and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”

15 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.”

16 They hurried to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. 17 After seeing him, the shepherds told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about this child. 18 All who heard the shepherds’ story were astonished.”

Try to close your eyes for a couple of minutes and imagine yourself in a countryside of grass and scrubby bushes in the middle of the night.  It’s warm, but you likely still have a small fire where you and the other shepherds can cook things to eat and drink.  You are talking with the other shepherds and telling stories about your sheep, where the best pasture is, what threats you have noticed to the sheep, and likely about the latest gossip from the town nearby.  You are not wealthy; in fact, your job is one of the lower jobs on the pay and fame scale.  You know you are not important, but you have a job and you have some buddies to share the boring nights with.  Then one night …  BOOM!

Verse 9 says they were terrified.  I can totally understand that.  They have NEVER experienced anything like this before. “Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them.”  The Bible mentions in other places that God’s glory blinds human eyes.  So here they are surrounded by the Lord’s glory.  They receive a message about the Messiah being born, and then there is an angelic choir. I love hearing The Messiah by Handel performed by the Windsor Symphony Orchestra and Choir.  It is always wonderful, and the applause at the end is long and deafening.  But I’m sure that is absolutely nothing in comparison to a choir of angels lighting up the sky and singing “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” Stop and think.  How do you think you would feel and react if that happened to you?

The shepherds went to the village quickly to see if what they had heard was right.  I can also imagine that conversation.  “Did you see what I saw? What I heard?  Should we check it out?  Yah, we should, but I still can’t believe it.  Do we leave our sheep here without us?  We have to check it out, but I still can’t believe it.  Are you sure we weren’t hallucinating?”  But they did go and found things exactly the way the angel had described it.  I wonder what Mary and Joseph thought?  I’ve never heard of any new mom who has been up and energetic right after delivering her baby.  Baby Jesus is wrapped and lying in the manger, so the shepherds didn’t arrive right away, but it was that night.  But Mary and Joseph have just been through a long journey, a search to find a place to give birth, and the actual birth – and then some shepherds show up saying they have seen angels singing about this new baby.  

After the visit, the shepherds told others in Bethlehem what had happened and what they had seen.  People were amazed.  Can you imagine the talk around town that week?  I wonder if others stopped by to check out Mary and Joseph.  Would they still be at the stable, or would they have found somewhere better to stay?

What amazes me is that God chose such ordinary unimportant people to announce the birth of His Son.  This whole picture is so not ‘heavenly’ in my mind.  When I think of God, angels, and heaven, I don’t see a stable with smelly shepherds showing up to visit a newborn baby. But even though this scene seems so unusual, I’m glad that is the way God announced Himself to our world.  Anyone, no matter how smart they are, how rich they are, how religious they are, or how important they are can say they have a monopoly on God’s love.  God reaches down to the most insignificant people.  He loves everyone no matter what.  And God showed that to us in no uncertain terms the night He arrived on earth.  He did have a fabulous choir announcement, but it was to shepherds, not kings and wealthy important people.  

It was for you and for me – no matter who we are.  

Our song for today is While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night by Kings College Choir.

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