Summary: This Child, this Christ, would be prophet, priest, and king -- showing God's way, ruling His people with compassion, and offering Himself as the sacrifice for their sins.
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then the angel of the Lord stood before 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; for, see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
One aspect of this story that intrigues me is that the shepherds actually went into town to find the stable where Jesus was born. We don’t know just how many shepherds there were. Presumably at least one of them stayed behind to insure the safety of the flock. But most of them, let’s say, left the fields to “go…to Bethlehem [to] see this thing that [had] taken place, which the Lord made known to [them].” But why? What was so compelling about the angel’s announcement that they would leave their work behind to check out the news they had heard?
We might say it was because they heard it from an angel. I mean, after all, how frequently do you get a special missive from “a multitude of the heavenly host”? Or, we might chalk it up to the very nature of keeping sheep. Sure, every once in a while there may be a lion or a bear show up and you have to defend the flock, but that would be every great once in a while. Usually, things weren’t all that exciting. But when an angel tells you about an event of major significance that has taken place in such close proximity, then there’s at least something to do. So, what do you do? You “go…and see.”
And then, of course, it’s a baby, for crying out loud. Who doesn’t like seeing a baby? Nevertheless, it’s unlikely that these shepherds would have turned aside to see every baby that was born nearby. But in this case they went. They left everything and went. Why?
Let’s see if we can find out why. When the angel told the shepherds about Jesus’ birth, they used a very special word. Its specialness is not easily recognized in the English rendering of the account, but you can spot it right off in the Greek. The word is “evangelize.” In verse 10 we read that the angel says, “I am bringing you good news.” That’s six words in English, but in the original it’s only one word. And it means, literally, “I evangelize you.”
Now, when you and I hear the word “evangelize,” we associate it with something religious. We may think of an evangelist addressing a large crowd gathered, perhaps, in a sports arena. Or, we may think of one person sharing his faith with another person over coffee. Or something like that. But in ancient times – in the times in which these shepherds lived – the word “evangelize” had a much wider meaning. It was used to announce the victory of a celebrated general or to honor the achievements of a king or an emperor.
For example, the following inscription was found on the ruins of an old government building in Asia Minor. It was dated in the year 6 B.C.:
We should consider the [birth of the] most divine Caesar [as] the beginning of all things [good]…for when everything was falling into disorder and tending toward dissolution, he restored it…and gave the whole world a new [quality]. Caesar [is] the common good Fortune of all…, the beginning of life and vitality…. All…cities unanimously adopt the birthday of the divine Caesar as the new beginning of the year…. The providence that has regulated our whole existence…has brought our life to the climax of perfection in giving to us the emperor Augustus…who, being sent to us and our descendants as Savior, has put an end to war and has set all things in order. And whereas, having become god manifest, Caesar has fulfilled the hopes of earlier times…. The birthday of the god Augustus has been for the whole world the beginning of good news” – that is, the evangel – “concerning him.”