Summary: 1) Surprise in Watching (Luke 2:8), 2) Surprise in Wonder (Luke 2:9-14), 3) Surprise in Worship (Luke 2:15-16), 4) Surprise in Witness (Luke 2:17-20)
When the year ends we tend of have a summary of the past year’s events. They usually include the year’s disasters, market crashes and deaths. Births, tend not to get much mention. The greatest birth in Human history did not get much immediate attention either except for a few shepherds on the Job. But this event was Good news.
Although this story is one of the most familiar in human history, there was great surprise in reaction to it. 1) Some have spent their lives watching for this event. 2) some were in astonishment, 3) some responded in praise and worship and 4) some told others of this amazing event.
In examining the light that came into the world, God shines his light into our hearts and lives. Your reaction to this story is a good indication if it is good news for you or not.
1) Surprise in Watching (Luke 2:8)
Luke 2:8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. (ESV)
Shepherds in an agrarian society may have small landholdings, but these would be inadequate to meet the demands of their own families, the needs of their own agricultural pursuits, and the burden of taxation. As a result, they might hire themselves out to work for wages. They were, then, peasants, located toward the bottom of the scale of power and privilege (Green, J. B. (1997). The Gospel of Luke. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (130). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.).
These shepherds were encamped in the open field, by turns keeping watch over their flock. During the day these animals were out on the grass. In the evening they could, when necessary, be led into crude shelters, pens, or sheepfolds, to protect them against inclement weather, wild beasts, and thieves. Right near them, always watching, were the shepherds. Those men who needed sleep could retire to a hut made of branches. The actual work of keeping watch over the sheep was done “by turns,” some resting while others watched.
Does the presence of these sheep in the fields mean that Jesus cannot have been born in the month of December? Bethlehem was nearby Jerusalem, and many of the sheep used in the temple sacrifices came from there. The surrounding hills were prime grazing land, and shepherds worked in the area day and night, all year round. Therefore it is not possible to draw any conclusion about the time of year by the fact that shepherds were living out in the fields (MacArthur, J. J. (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed.) (Lk 2:8). Nashville: Word Pub.).
The decision that Christ’s birth occurred on Dec. 25 was reached in the fourth century, i.e., during the reign of Constantine, the first Christian emperor (period of reign: A.D. 306–337). It was then that the date of the Savior’s birth was made to coincide with Saturnalia, the orgiastic pagan festival celebrating the return of the sun after days of constantly increasing darkness. During that festival gifts were exchanged. Christians did not object to the giving of gifts, especially if they were in the form of donations to the poor.
And as for rejoicing because of the sun’s victory over the darkness, that too was no problem. According to Malachi’s prophecy, reaffirmed by Zechariah (Mal. 4:2), is not Christ the Sun who illumines our darkness?
Luke 1:78-79 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace." (ESV)
One should not romanticize the occupation of shepherds. In general shepherds were dishonest (Sanh. 25b) and unclean according to the standards of the law. They represent the outcasts and sinners for whom Jesus came. Such outcasts were the first recipients of the good news (Stein, R. H. (2001). Vol. 24: Luke (electronic ed.). Logos Library System; The New American Commentary (108). Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers.).
As the recipients of a divine visitation, these shepherds are highly esteemed in the world of the birth narrative. This is not an esteem shared by the rulers of 2:1–2; their power is relativized and they receive no news of this divine intervention. Good news comes to peasants, not rulers; the lowly are lifted up (Green, J. B. (1997). The Gospel of Luke. The New International Commentary on the New Testament (131). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.)
Poem: ("Would We Know?")
Rebecca Barlow Jordan wrote:
If we had been the shepherds one night long ago,
I wonder if we’d recognize the star or if we’d know
the reason for His birth and if we’d really go
to worship at the manger. I wonder, would we know?