Summary: Looking at the birth of Christ through the eyes of the Shepherds.
Experiencing the Birth of Christ With The Shepherds
The challenge that faces a preacher at Christmas is how to tell the familiar Christmas story in such a way that we do not miss the significance of it. With the annual repetitions the familiarity of the Christmas story can cause us to take it for granted, to overlook just how amazing this event is. As Christians we are so familiar with the Christmas story that we may be tempted to shrug it off as not being especially exciting or relevant to the problems that we are facing in our lives. So this year I want to challenge you to see it again for the first time.
Let’s set the stage by beginning to read in verse seven, “And she (Mary) brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
When it says in verse seven, “And she (Mary) brought forth her firstborn Son,” the obvious meaning is that Jesus was her first child. Clearly implied is that Mary will have other sons in the process of time. In fact following the birth of Jesus, Matthew writes that Joseph did not consummate his marriage with Mary until after the birth of Jesus (Matt.1:25). But beyond that “firstborn” (prototokos) means “first in place” or “first in importance.” In the New Testament Jesus is called “first born of Creation,” “the first born from the death.”
Next we are told that she “wrapped Him in swaddling cloths.” The word for “cloths” (spar-ganoo) is used to describe medical bandages and wrappings used to bind up the dead. In all prob-ably old clothes were torn up and used for swaddling to keep the baby warm. Even in His birth there is a foreshadowing of His death.
Luke says “there was no room for them in the inn.” There is much discussion of what is meant by “inn.” There are two words translated “inn” in the New Testament. The first (pandocheion) is indic-ative of a place with a host, provisions and rooms. The other (kataluma), which is the one used here, merely means an enclosure, just walls into which a traveler might drive their livestock for the night. The birth of Jesus is not the pleasant and peaceful scene we see on Christmas cards but a barnyard scene with all that implies. The only invitation from God to anyone to come and visit Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus is to a group of shepherds.
First, What the Shepherds Saw. (2:8-9)
“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. (9) And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid.”
To whom does God announce the birth of His son? Too whom would you expect the announcement to go? We could see how God might choose to announce the birth of Christ to Herod the king. We could see how He would want to announce the birth in a splendid ceremony in the Temple led by the High Priest. But we have trouble understanding why He would choose a ragtag band of shepherds.
The invitation of God comes to the most despised of people, outcasts from all respectable society. They were accused of being thieves and of using land they had no right to. Their honesty and integrity was so questionable that they were not even allowed to testify in a court of law in those days.” I like how Leon Morris phrased it when he wrote. “Most regrettable was their unfortunate habit of confusing ‘mine’ from ‘thine.’ [Leon Morris. “Luke.” Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. (Downer’s Grove, NJ: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008) p. 101] Shepherds were so far down on the list of social outcast that the only people lower were lepers.
At best the shepherds were common, ordinary working class people. They definitely were not at the top of the social ladder. Most likely these shepherds were tending their sheep somewhere on the hills near Bethlehem and the sheep they were tending were probably sheep intended for the Temple sacrifices. They were the last people that you’d expect God to take notice of. I believe that God chose the shepherds because He wanted to show that His love is available to all. Scripture tells us that God is not a respecter of persons, He does not show more respect to kings than He does to hourly wage earners. (James 2:5)
Even today people sometimes think; “I am not sure that God even knows that I exist, and even if He does He probably doesn’t have a very favorable opinion of me!” But no matter how insignificant you may think you are God knows you and you are important to Him. Peter invites believers to, “cast all your unto Him, for He cares for you.” (1 Peter 5:7)