The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Luke 2:6 “While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and the inn. 8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 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; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’ 13 And suddenly there appeared with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 ‘Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.’ 15 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 us.’ 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen, just as had been told them.” (NASB)
If you attended services on Wednesday evenings during Advent, you know that the sermon series centered on the people to whom the angel(s) came: Zacharias, Mary, and Joseph. The sermons looked at the three’s respective responses to the message preached to them by their angelic visitor.
Tonight, we consider the shepherds, their selection as the first human beings to hear the angelic proclamation, and their responses to the message. In the angel’s previous three visits, he told Zacharias, Mary, and Joseph what was going to take place. John the Baptist, the forerunner to Christ would be conceived by Zacharias and Elizabeth and would be born ahead of Jesus. The Son of God would follow through the person of the Virgin Mary.
With the coming of the angel (the fourth appearance) and the angelic host to the shepherds abiding their fields by night outside Bethlehem, the angel no longer used the “future tense.” It had happened. The Virgin had given birth; “there has been born for you a Savior” the angel said.
That which was promised through the angel Gabriel had come to pass, just as the angel and the prophets of old had said and in the place God had promised it would be.
8 In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened. 10 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.’”
In the little city of David, Bethlehem, the Son of God was born. But in Rome, it was business as usual. In Caesar’s palace the nightly entertainment, the feasting, and the politics continued as if nothing was changing. No one there knew that the Son of God and humanity’s Savior had been born. No one told them.
The Roman Senate never saw an angel either. No messenger was sent to them. They never heard the hymn “Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.” They never knew that the King of the Jews had been born and in time all things would be placed under His feet.
In the king’s palace at Jerusalem, the paranoid and murderous “King” Herod had no clue that just six miles away in Bethlehem the King of kings and Lord of lords had been born. Herod did not know that the new born Babe would establish His reign forever and ever on David’s throne.
In temple the Sanhedrin met as usual. The scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees continued to squabble over the details of the ceremonial law and political differences. None of them had any idea that the Christ, the Messiah so long promised, had been born. God did not send anyone to tell them, let alone and the angel.
The Lord God did not think it worthwhile to tell the story of the Savior’s birth to the people who lived in palaces, halls of government, and not even to the religious officials who lived in the temple.
Instead, when Jesus was born the God sent the angel of the Lord out of heaven to the earth with a compliment of an angelic host to sing to a group of lowly shepherds, who responded in the same way that the others three had. “They were terribly frightened.” That’s by the way how sinners react when they are confronted by that which is truly holy. But God’s first advent is one of peace, not war so the angel said to them, “the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid.’”
God sent His holy angels to men of low degree. They were the first to hear the good news of great joy. When it came to social and vocational classes in the ancient world, shepherds were ranked at the bottom. Their occupation ranked at the same level as the guy who shows up on the street out side our homes in the early hours of the morning to throw our trash into the back of the truck and drive it away.
It wasn’t until months later when the wise men came from the East came seeking “the King of the Jews” did the powers that be in Jerusalem, the king and religious leaders hear that the Christ had been had been born.
With all those rich and important people in the world, God chose to send His angels to call these poor shepherds to Christ. If you know your Bible it shouldn’t be a great surprise. The Apostle Paul wrote, “26 For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; 27 but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, 28 and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen…” (I Corinthians 1:26-28).
The theme of the humble shepherd runs through the Bible. Abel was a shepherd (Genesis 4:2), the first shepherd. God showed Himself to Abel, the shepherd, not to his brother Cain.
Abraham was a shepherd and God visited Abraham to give him the promise of a son in his and Sara’s old age. (Gen. 22)
Joseph was a shepherd (Genesis 37:2). God showed Himself to Joseph, the shepherd not to his brothers.
Moses fled from Egypt and became a shepherd (Exodus 3:1). God showed Himself to Moses the shepherd, not to the Pharaoh of Egypt.
David was a shepherd (I Samuel 16:11). God showed Himself to David the shepherd, not to King Saul.
The prophet Amos was a shepherd and God came to him in visions (Amos 1:1).
Then of course the Babe of Bethlehem grew up and became the Good Shepherd, who in His poverty, humility, and obedience laid down His life for His sheep.
So God sent His angel to announce the birth of Christ to “shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock” (Luke 2:8) – not to Caesar Augustus, not to King Herod, not to the High Priest in the temple, and not to the the Sanhedrin.
While God works through the humble, the lowly, and failures of the world, people both inside and outside the church seek God in the powerful, the successful, and the popular. “God must be with them. We can see that He is because they prosper and grow, while we grow smaller and weaker,” at least that’s the reasoning.
We would do well to remember Mary’s song. “For He has had regard for the humble state of His bondslave . . . He has scattered those who were proud in the thoughts of their heart. . . . He has brought down rulers from their thrones, And has exalted those who were humble. He has filled the hungry with good things; And sent away the rich empty-handed.” (Luke 1).
It was poor shepherds who heard the angelic announcement, “in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.” You know their response.
15 “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 us.’ 16 So they came in a hurry and found their way to Mary and Joseph, and the baby as He lay in the manger. 17 When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.”
Like Zacharias and Elizabeth, Mary, and Joseph, the shepherds believe and act accordingly. The shepherds made haste. They ran to Bethlehem and saw the things which were just as the angels told them. They told Mary and Joseph and the others who had gathered to see the Christ Child, what the angel has said and done.
As for the Herods, the one at the beginning and the one at the end of His earthly life, Roman officials, the high priests, scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees, we know how they responded when the message of the Christ and the Son of God came to them. Herod “slew all the male children who were in Bethlehem and all its vicinity, from two years old and under.”
After Jesus had been baptized into His offices of Prophet, Priest, and King by John the Baptist, “the chief priests and the elders of the people were gathered together in the court of the high priest, named Caiaphas; and they plotted together to seize Jesus by stealth and kill Him.”
It was not to the great and grand that they angels came. It was to poor shepherds who were the first God called to see the newborn Christ “lying in a manger” in Bethlehem.
There’s a lesson here for all of us. It’s a lesson we Christians often forget. While the world runs to power, glitz and glamour, big productions, big sales, promises of success and wealth, salvation, peace, utopia, and lives flowing with milk and honey, God sends His Word, His Christ, our Savior to those who are faint-hearted and feel the burden of their sins, like the shepherds, to whom the angels proclaimed the message, while letting the great lords in Jerusalem and Rome who did not receive it go on sleeping.
Make haste and come with those poor shepherds, let the caesars and Herods go their way. Come with the shepherds and let the scribes and Pharisees go their way. Come with the shepherds and let the high priests and politicians go their way. On this Christmas Eve, come with the shepherds and find “Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:16).
Caesar, Rome, the temple are all long gone, but Christ is still here in His Word, in the liturgy, and in the sacraments. Like the shepherds, we are a small group, but like the shepherds God has sent the angelic proclamation to us.. And like the shepherds, the angelic proclamation has come to us. “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; 11 for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. . . . 14 Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased.”
May the peace that surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen..