Here are some reflections on part of the Christmas story, using the REAP format: Read, Examine, Apply, Pray.
Read: Luke 2:8-20
"And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 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. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”
In Luke’s narrative, the scene immediately pulls away from the intimate scene at the manger to what was happening elsewhere in the region of Judea. Calmly and quietly the shepherds are taking care of their flocks in the stillness of the evening. Like David had done in this region, they were guarding their flocks from any sort of predators out in the wide-open fields. Some scholars hold that the sheep in these fields near Jerusalem were being kept for sacrifices at the temple. If so, this bears great significance toward the Christmas narrative, as Jesus was considered to be the Lamb of God. The new born child was destined for sacrifice just as these lambs in the field. Jesus also called Himself the Shepherd–a guardian and caretaker of those He called His own. These points bear a great significance toward what happened next. The darkness of night was dissolved as an angel’s glory flooded the scene, engulfing the shepherds and sheep in light. Their response wasn’t one of excitement at all, but they were absolutely freaked out. I don’t blame them for that at all. If I was minding my own business and suddenly a supernatural apparition appeared before me, I’d have the same reaction! The Lord must know the effects of an angel visitation, because like many times before the angel begins with “fear not.” Chill out, I’m not here bearing bad news like with Balaam.
The angel speaks and tells the shepherds that he was there with the gospel. It was "good news of great joy”, to be certain. This wasn’t just a heads up about what God was doing elsewhere. This was news that elicited a response! Mega joy, in the Greek. What has occurred in the stable is for the purpose of great joy for all the people. Jesus wasn’t born into the world to save the Jews, or to save the most perfect of the religious leaders. He was born to save all. This means Jews and Greeks, males and females, slaves and freeman, blacks and whites and all ethnicities, the rich and the poor, the heterosexual and the homosexual, the child and the adult, the alcoholics and drug addicts, the victimizers and the victims. Everyone. All people. There is a word for this, and this principle should be embraced by every believer in Christ. Grace. Jesus is the fulfillment of every need and desire throughout all ages. Jesus is the answer to the problem of sin, the problem of addiction, the problem of cynicism, the problem of elitism, the problem of racism, the problem of classism, and so on.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him shall not perish, but shall have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
The angel makes the method and source clear. He tells the shepherd of the birth of the Messiah, in the city of David, whom is Christ the Lord. A little child with a grand title. The angel shares the details and wants the shepherds to confirm this reality byinvestigating it. To top of this revelation, as though this weren’t enough, the sky brightens even more with a squadron of angels, bursting out in worship and song. “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” or, as the KJV puts it, “...on earth peace, good will toward men!” The gospel promise is good will toward all, and through those who respond to this good news. God has intervened after 400 years of prophetic silence to bring the good news of great joy, that the promised Savior has finally come.
The angels left them, and I can imagine them reeling in the lingering silence. “We…we should maybe…check it out.” “Yeah…yeah sure…ok.” Who knows if they take their sheep with them, but they quickly take off for Bethlehem and find the two parents surrounding the baby in the manger. Their investigation resulted in seeing the child whom is called Christ the Lord. As it all sunk in, they disclosed to Mary and Joseph what they saw and heard, to the response of wonder. Another angelic revelation had come, disclosing more information about His identity. He would not only be King and Son of the Most High, but a Savior, and Christ. He was born to rule, and to save. To shepherd, and to sacrifice. As the shepherds left, Mary takes their tidings to heart, as a fuller picture of her son emerges. Imagine being a shepherd, quietly taking care of your lambs, when all of this occurs. They couldn’t hold in their great joy after seeing and hearing all this, making their way back while expressing their own magnificat.
There comes a time in the life of most every individual when the gospel, or good news, is heard. This information doesn’t immediately sound like good news to some people, as it’s communicated as a remedy to a problem we might not like to admit. Sin. Sin alienates us from God and from each other, and shackles us to our idols of self and false notions of grandiosity. Every man and woman, if they are honest, in their heart of hearts they find a need. A need to be fathered, a need to be lead, a need to be taught, and a need to be saved. This mortifies the enlightened mind, yet many people throughout the ages have found refuge, peace, and true fulfillment when they disarm themselves of their pseudo-confidence or assurance, and accepted the gift of salvation in Jesus Christ. For some this is a dramatic happening, like a visitation of angels. For some this is a long, prodding, process of inquiry.
May the lesson of the shepherds be one we can all rely upon; that investigation–seeking, questioning, and the testing of faith, will lead us to discover a reality that the natural mind and heart cannot achieve. The shepherds put their faith into action, and I need to do that as well. “Taste and see that the Lord is good…” is a statement that when put into action will find it’s results.
It is unfortunate that the gospel is diluted down and away from the unmerited grace of God to a list of requirements before being translated into the fold. The good news of great joy for all people should be something that is embraced and known by Christians–of all people! Too often the good news is brought to others with barriers and unnecessary stumbling blocks. If people are captured by the reality of the love and unmerited favor (grace) of God, then they will contagiously attract those that are searching and know their need. The way in which the gospel is communicated is just as important as the content of the gospel. Notice the angels didn’t come saying, “You all are wicked and going to hell. You’d better get your act together or you will be damned for all eternity.” That wouldn’t go well as a Christmas tune. Instead they say “FEAR NOT”. The shepherds knew their condition in the presence of glory, but the angels pointed them to the solution. The humble form of the Lord in a manger, speaks volumes of His tender love and affection toward His children. May God’s people do better and reflecting the image of God, rather than their own image.
Father, thank you for the good news of your mercy and grace. Thank you for showing me your character in your willingness to come into this world as a tiny, vulnerable child. Please don’t let me shrink from investigating your Word. Please keep me from misrepresenting your character. May the reality of my identity as your beloved be one that is ever present in my mind. May the gospel I communicate in word and action be grounded in the truth of your grace. Amen.