I am happy to present to you one of the chapters from my new book, 'Nativity: A Devotional Commentary On The Birth Of Christ'
Chapter 13: SHEPHERDS AND ANGELS- Luke 2:8-20 (December 26th)
God’s pattern of visiting the humble and lowly is repeated in the story of the shepherds and angels. It signals to us that ‘the new world coming is of a radically different shape than the former one…’
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
Shepherds were at the bottom of the social and economic scale. ‘It is most likely that these shepherds were in charge of the flocks from which the Temple Offerings were chosen.’ As many as 30,000 lambs would have been raised in the fields around Bethlehem to be sacrificed during the Passover celebration in Jerusalem. Mary has just given birth to the ultimate Lamb of God who will give his life for the world. God chose to reveal his Son to the lowly shepherds as they were not encumbered with endless religious barriers like the scribes and priests in Jerusalem. We cannot be certain as to the exact month or day of Christ’s birth but this verse leads us to believe that Jesus was born at night.
9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
The angel, most likely Gabriel, appeared instantaneously in a flash of glory, ‘the radiant shining forth of any or of all the divine attributes of God.’ The shepherd’s great fear would be replaced by great joy. The use of the word good news,evangelaion, assures them that this is not a terrifying angelic judgment but a heavenly message of salvation to all the people of the earth. This announcement at his birth signaled the dismantling of racial and social barriers among all of humanity.
The angel identifies that the child will be found in the town of David. This was essential to fulfilling the prophecies about the Messiah’s birthplace. The angel does not tell the shepherds the baby’s name but reveals a trinity of titles. He is Savior; previously reserved for Yahweh alone but now transferred to His Son Jesus. He is Mashiach or Messiah, meaning Christ the Anointed One; and lastly He is Lord, in Greek Kurios for divine Lord. ‘This combination occurs nowhere else in the N. T…Luke is very fond of Kurios (Lord) where the other Gospels have Jesus.’ Jesus is truly Lord at His birth. The angel gives the shepherds the double sign of both the manger and the baby wrapped in strips of cloth to assure them of finding the exact child.
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
In a second, more spectacular instantaneous flash there was a great number of angel armies praising God in a doxology known as the ‘Gloria in Excelsis,’ ‘Glory in the Highest.’ These immaterial spirits of immense power and intelligence have accompanied the Son of God since their creation. Perhaps the mighty Cherubim, the four Seraphim of Isaiah, the four Living Creatures described in Revelation and Michael and his legions of angelic armies now burst upon the night sky with their song of celebration in homage to their Creator-King. As a baby he is in the humblest human condition but is further immobilized from any earthly strength by the strips of cloth. ‘So great the babe, so lowly its condition.’
His mission of peace, the presence of justice and universal healing, is announced in worshipful song. Those on whom his favor rests should not be thought of in an exclusive, Jewish national sense ‘but in an inclusive way: In the birth of this child, God’s mercy has fallen on the whole world.’
15 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.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
‘These shepherds do not speak doubtfully, “Let us go see whether it be so or not;” but with assurance, Let us go see this thing which is come to pass.’It is significant that Luke describes them as finding Mary and Joseph giving more importance to the mother than her husband. The shepherds become the first evangelists of the New Testament as they spread the word about the nameless child who has such high credentials. The Shepherd’s testimony must have spread quickly throughout the region. Amazing grace flowed from an amazing God.
19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Mary ponders (sunballousa) everything. This is an old Greek word for placing things together for comparison. Luke is most likely recording directly from Mary’s remembrances of these wondrous events. The shepherds, who had been stationary as they were guarding their flocks, were now glorifying and praising God, an important transformation for those who will lead God’s people.