Summary: Basing it on God’s choice of the shepherds as the first audience the birth announcement of Christ, the sermon teaches us that God cares about every detail about us.
THE SHEPHERDS’ STORY
"And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths 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, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Luke 2:8-14, ESV
You and I are so familiar with this Christmas story that if we are honest with ourselves, we might even admit we are sometimes too familiar with it. Not in the sense that familiarity breeds contempt, but that the story may not fascinate us quite as much as it once did. Each year at Christmas we listen again to what the angels said to the shepherds. We often hear it in sermons on Sunday morning. Children repeat the angelic announcement in annual Christmas plays. More than one generation has grown up hearing the angel’s words recited by Linus in the Charlie Brown’s Christmas play. Christmas cards not only print the words, they also have accompanying artwork. It is no exaggeration to say that many Christians may suffer from overexposure to the story. We can become too familiar with it.
Overexposure leads to misinformation and a lack of appreciation for what real shepherds were like in biblical times. We take it for granted that our nativity characters correspond quite well to those shepherds watching their flocks by night. At best, our minds eye duplicates what we see on Christmas cards. For others, our image of biblical shepherds is hopelessly shaped by watching elementary school aged boys dressed in homemade shepherds’ robes and wearing flipflop sandals while holding rods made of broomsticks and aluminum foil. Our mental images of biblical shepherds could stand for some modification.
What would it be like if you and I were to step back in time, hike through Bethlehem’s hills some chilly night, and stumble across these men who heard the angel herald? Suddenly, our mental portraits come alive with flesh and living color. We encounter real men with real faces, real voices, real families, and real needs. They are not like our Christmas cards at all. What if we were to talk with them about what it means to be a shepherd? What would they tell us that we thought we already knew? What would we learn about shepherds from real shepherds?
More importantly, what if we were able to talk to them about their encounter with heaven’s angelic host? We could ask them what it meant to each of them personally when they heard directly from heaven about the birth of Jesus Christ. We could ask them, “What permanent impact did talking with flaming angels and hearing a choir of thousands of angels singing ‘glory to God in the highest’ have on you?”
We know some of the things these men did. Actually, we know several things they did. Luke’s gospel tells us these men had been filled with fear. But that fear vanished. We also know they ran to find the birthplace of the Savior, Christ the Lord. The shepherds visited Jesus, Mary, and Joseph and told the babe’s parents about the angels in the hills. As they returned to their sheep, the shepherds’ excitement was uncontainable. It knew no bounds. We read, “And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” We know some of what the shepherds did.
The question I want to address with today’s message is on the other side of the coin, though. That question is this: “What did this event do to them?” If we know some of what the shepherds did, can we know what happened to them? What did the dazzling angelic announcement of the birth of Jesus Christ do to the very first people that heard about that birth? But the question goes deeper. If we get a clear picture of what the announcement meant to these men, we can learn something important about ourselves. What does God’s announcement to the shepherds teach us about us and our relationship with him? I can think of a lot of things, but let me begin with something very basic.