Luke 2:8 – 20
8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah,* the Lord. 12This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ 13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host,* praising God and saying,
14 ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!’*
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ 16So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
You just have to love this part of the Christmas story as Luke tells it! The angel is back – but this time he appears to a group of shepherds. These were poor men, living out-doors, working nights under the stars. Jesus’ birth is announced by angels, not royal heralds; and it is announced to poor, working people, not the rich and famous!
Picture the scene: the night is dark; there are millions of stars, for there was no light pollution; the stars seem to hang near the hillside where they sit or walk quietly about, speaking in low voices so as not to startle the sheep. Suddenly, a man in white clothes stands before them, and is surrounded in bright light. The shepherds are terrified, as we would be! Of course, the first words the angel says are, “Do not be afraid!” And then the angel tells them the purpose of his visit. He is bringing “Good News” – the gospel – and this good news is for all people, a cause of great joy! For a baby has been born in Bethlehem, and that baby is the Savior, the Messiah, the Lord!! And the angel gives them a sign: they will find the babe wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.
Suddenly, the angel was not alone, but the sky was filled with heavenly beings – angels – singing praise, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors.” (We learned it Peace on Earth, Good will to men; but that was one of those places where the older texts, not available to the writers of the King James, are slightly different.)
And then, they were gone – the sky was again dark and filled with stars. The shepherds look at one another, in shock. But then they say, “Let’s go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place.” And so they go, and sure enough, just as the angel had said, they find Mary and Joseph and the babe, lying in a manger. And they went about the streets, rejoicing, and telling everyone what they had seen. And then they returned to their fields, glorifying and praising God! I have always wondered, if perhaps, 30 years later, some of them saw and heard Jesus speaking – the Sermon on the Mount perhaps – and remembered that night, and knew this was the babe they saw.
But Mary treasured these words, and pondered them in her heart!
The pictures are from a place on the outskirts of Bethlehem called "The Shepherd’s Field"; it is the traditional place where the angel visited the shepherds. In the midst of the park-like area is a chapel; alcoves off the chapel are each painted with a scene from the story. I love the last one, where a small boy – and his dog – are so filled with joy that they are jumping about, dancing with joy.