And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
Ephesians 3:20 tells us that God is always doing immeasurably more than all we ask or think. Today’s text, which shows us how the angels respond to the birth of Jesus, gives us a glimpse into that truth. It happens when they deliver news of the birth of Jesus to the shepherds watching over their flocks in the fields outside of Bethlehem.
Why do you think the Christmas story involves shepherds? Every nativity shows them with their crooks, at Mary and Joseph’s side, looking with wonder at the baby Jesus. Let me tell you about them.
An ordinary shepherd’s job was to tend the animals that would be sacrificed to atone for the sins of the people. Yet because of what their work sometimes required, shepherds were ceremonially unclean, and thus prevented from keeping the ceremonial law themselves. And because they were unclean, they were often suspected of being untrustworthy and irreligious. Being regarded as outsiders was part of the price they paid in their work.
In a ceremonial world (and make no mistake, ours is a ceremonial world), you end up with insiders and outsiders—those who fold effortlessly into the system, and those who find no place. The shepherds were decidedly outsiders.
When the angel appears outside of Bethlehem to these marginalized shepherds, what does he say? He says, in effect, “Go, behold the end of your life as an outsider.” He tells them the Savior, Christ the Lord, has been born. And then the angel uses one more expression which brings overwhelming clarity to the moment. The angel tells them, Christ the Lord had been born “for you” (Luke 2:11). The divine Savior and Messiah had been born for them—for shepherds. They are not outsiders to this gift, but recipients of it.
But it doesn’t end there.
God is an artist. The angel gives the shepherds a sign that will prove his claim: the Savior can be found where the young lambs are kept (Luke 2:12). He’ll be the one not clothed in wool, but in a swaddling cloth. Think about that for a minute. The Savior has been born into the world of the lowest of the low—into their domain. He was not born in a palace or a temple, but in the place where the lambs were kept while they waited to be sacrificed for the atonement of the God’s people.
Christmas is an exercise in celebrating divine intervention. Though we may have a hard time connecting with the weight of this season, the angels themselves seemed to grasp the magnitude of the moment. The text tells us one angel came to announce Jesus’ birth, but it was like there were a million more hiding behind some celestial corner in the sky over Bethlehem. And once they heard, “Unto you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!” they all rushed in singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased.”
Though the shepherds were just beginning to process what they had heard, the angels couldn’t contain their joy or praise at this news. If we’re wise, we’ll grant that the angels’ response fits the announcement. The good news is this: there are no outsiders to God’s mercy and grace. Christ was born for this—to reconcile us, by faith, to our Creator.
Glory to God in the highest. Merry Christmas.
This is originally writing by Russ Ramsey for He Reads Truth Advent 2016: Christ was born for this series devotional.
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