Summary: We can learn a lesson from the Shepherds: We have encountered the life-changing power of Jesus, as are called to share our experience of the Newborn King with all those we meet.
“The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light.” (Isaiah 9:2) Thus begins the prophet Isaiah’s description of the Messiah. When the Messiah comes, those who feel like they’ve been walking around in the dark will be bathed in light, such as the brightness of day. I wonder if that’s what the shepherds felt like on that first Christmas night.
There were no city lights to pollute that star-lit sky that night. Take a drive through the country on the evening of a new moon, and you’ll get a glimpse of just how dark “dark” can be. Perhaps you’ve encountered a wild animal during an expedition of such a dark night. That’s the work environment for a shepherd. Just because it gets dark doesn’t mean that the shepherd can punch out his timecard and go home. Tending sheep is a 24 hour job, seven days a week. And, more than likely, the shepherds don’t own the sheep that they are tending. If someone is wealthy enough to own sheep then they are wealthy enough to hire someone to take care of them.
Perhaps the shepherds felt like they were “in the dark” in other ways. Being a shepherd wasn’t all that desirable of an occupation: First of all there’s the smell and dirt that comes along with raising sheep. Second, sheep aren’t always known for their brilliance and common sense. Shepherds often had to go chasing after sheep that had gone astray and gotten themselves into dangerous situations. Next, being a shepherd meant being away from home for a great deal of time, as you moved the sheep around the countryside in search of green pastures and still waters. Then there’s the reputation issue. Shepherds weren’t usually the most upstanding of citizens. The Judean hillside could be a pretty good place to “disappear” if you were on the run from the law, and so shepherds were often seen by society as outcasts, thieves, criminals, or at least people of shady intentions. Even if you were a shepherd of good moral character, most people would still look at you as though you were a bandit, and would want to spend as little time with you as possible. And that can be a difficult load to bear.
"The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light." Into the midst of the darkness of that night on Bethlehem’s countryside, God’s angelic light shone. The angels came to proclaim the good news that Christ the Savior is born. But they didn’t take their message to the high and mighty ones. The angel of the Lord didn’t appear to Emperor Augustus or to Quirinius, governor of Syria. Instead, God chose this bunch of outsiders to be the first to hear the Good News that the Savior was born.
And “They went with haste to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord made known to them.” The shepherds couldn’t just sit there and take the heavenly news for granted. They had to go and see this good news for themselves. And go they did. The went with haste. They weren’t about to run the risk the possibility that this joyous occasion would end before they could see it. They beat feet to get to the manger bed.