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.
And when they reached the place where Jesus lay, they were moved to share their good news. “You’ll never believe what we saw!” “…They made known what had been told them about this child and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.” (Luke 2:17-18) They experienced the Christ child, and they shared what they had heard and seen.
But the shepherd’s proclamation didn’t stop there! As they left, they continued to spread their good news: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:20)
These shepherds could be seen as the first Christian evangelists, the first Christian preachers. God simply plucked them out of the fields and sent them to work. They hadn’t attended years of seminary or received a doctor’s degree in preaching. Their only credential was their experience. They had been invited to experience the Christ child. They went with haste and had a life-changing encounter with Jesus, their Lord. And in response to their encounter with the Savior, they were compelled to tell others. Luke tells us “they returned.” Most likely what they returned to was their shepherding. They went back to their work and the places they were familiar with. Most likely they returned to the same hills outside of Bethlehem, and went back to work, but for this bunch of shepherds, it wasn’t business as usual. Their lives were forever changed by that angelic visit, by their trip to see the Christ child, where they shared their story of God’s acting in their lives.