by Pastor Gavin
Can you imagine what it must have been like for those shepherds watching their flocks by night? Yes, we all know the story… we hear it each Christmas and, perhaps, it catches our imagination. We know to expect stables and mangers and angels singing in the night and magi or wise men and stars from the east, but imagine being there for a moment, without knowing what is to come, without the fairytale magic that the Christmas story exudes. Instead, imagine being a normal, working stiff, out watching over sheep at night… remember sheep are not the most fun animals to watch over… they’re incredibly stupid and wont to wander off in some strange direction. But there the shepherds are, an ordinary night unlike any other. There was nothing magical about their lives.
And yet, something amazing was about to happen to them… something that would not only change their lives but change the course of the world forever more. I often wonder if they possibly sensed it coming. I don’t think so. So often drastic changes can happen in our lives without any foreknowledge. There are big events in our lives that we plan for and that we prepare for and then there are big events in our lives that truly just happen to us. In all honesty, the ones that just happen to us are often bad things in our lives: a car accident, a medical problem, a loss of a job. Often it is the good life changing events that we plan for: a wedding, a vacation, the birth of a baby. But there are wonderful things that can change our lives if we only pay attention and let them… things like the arrival of the angels for the shepherds.
I wonder what the shepherds were doing or thinking on that night… perhaps they were sleeping… perhaps one of them had had a really bad day. But the angels came and changed everything in just a moment. And their lives did change in a powerful way, even though they might not have realized it instantly.
The shepherds had choices as to how to respond to this sudden change in their lives, this sudden visit by the angel telling them of good news of great joy. They could have contemplated it, they could have gone back to sleep knowing that the world was just a little better now, or they could even have ignored it completely. Instead they talked among themselves and decided to go see this thing that had been described to them. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it really is a center of the shepherds’ story. I wonder how often it is that we miss those miracles of God happening in our lives suddenly because we are too busy with what we are doing to really pay attention.
A lot happened to the shepherds that night that Jesus was born. An angel appeared to them bringing them tidings of Jesus’ birth, they then saw the hosts of heaven partying in the sky and singing praises. Later on they saw Jesus in a manger, exactly as the angel had described and we are told that they returned to their fields telling everybody they came in contact with what it is that they had seen. But the one choice they had in this whole thing was that they had to decide whether to follow up on this good news of great joy that they had heard. And this is the place where I think we don’t always follow through ourselves. I think that sometimes we find ourselves too busy with our lives to really let the miracles of God happen to us. We are running around, trying to get everything done, we are spending all our time and energy just trying to make do with what is going on in our lives. And because of this we miss the good news that God has for us, we miss the opportunity to experience the miracles that God has lined up for our lives.
I believe I’ve mentioned before that my piano teacher growing up belonged to a group that believed that angels sang each Christmas Eve to celebrate the birthday of Jesus. I’m not sure where this belief came from, as it really doesn’t make much sense to me… but the attitude that it brings is a wonderful one. You see, each Christmas, he would make a point of listening to the world around him, trying to hear angel song in the sounds that he heard. As he heard dogs barking in the background or the wind blowing through the trees, he would listen for harmony, he would listen to hear music. He was paying attention to the world around him, he was living in a way that expected God to do something powerful, something miraculous.
I don’t know if he ever heard angels sing. But I know that while he was doing this he was preparing himself to hear God in a powerful way. And if one of those miraculous works of God did happen, I’m sure he would have been one to hear it and to respond.
I remember paying attention very closely to the world around me on Christmas Eves as well. Growing up, we would regularly go to an evening service like what we are at tonight and as we drove home after worship my eyes would be scanning the sky, looking for a flying sleigh with reindeer pulling it. So, I wasn’t exactly listening for angel song, but I guess it’s a start.
But, what about you, are you living in such a way that if God started sharing his good news with you, you’d hear it? I’m not just talking about listening for angel song on Christmas; I’m talking about really listening to hear God speak in your life. I’m talking about allowing yourself to expect God to break into this world in a powerful and magical way.
I don’t know why, but it seems that it is a little easier to believe in this possibility at Christmastime. Perhaps it is the romanticism that Christmas brings. Perhaps it is the way that Christmas brings us back to our own childhood. Perhaps it is the traditions we keep. But at Christmas I find it easier to believe in miracles. At Christmas I find it easier to believe that God can work in real ways. At Christmas I find it easier to believe that God is with me. If he was with Mary and Joseph in Jesus, if he was with the shepherds as they heard the angels sing, if he was with the magi as they followed the star to Jerusalem, then Bethlehem, then perhaps he will be with me as well.
And the truth is that that is precisely what Christmas is about: God with us. The miracle of Christmas is that God was incarnate, that God was made man, that God lived among us as one of us. God was with Mary and Joseph in a powerful way on that first Christmas morning. It wasn’t some strange, nebulous, feel-good way that he was present. He was physically present to them as a newborn babe, wrapped in swaddling cloths and laying in a manger.
This is the good new that the angels sang about. This was such good news that they couldn’t contain themselves and they appeared in the night sky praising God in song in front of a group of shepherds.
So, can you imagine what it must have been like for those shepherds? Can you imagine seeing what it is they saw? What would you do if you had the opportunity to experience what it is that they experienced? Hopefully you would truly allow yourself to be changed by what it is that you saw. Hopefully you would find great joy in knowing the truth that God is with you in a real, palpable way. Amen.
The Announcement of Jesus' Birth, Part 1 by John MacArthur
In Luke 2:11 it says, "There has been born for you a Savior." There has been born for you a Savior...that is the high note of this entire passage. The shepherds and the angels are bit players, as it were, in the scenario in which the Savior who has been born is the main character. There has been born for you a Savior. This is the greatest news the world has ever heard. This is the good news.
For to us a child is born: Isaiah 9:1-7
Notice how the language is couched in the past tense. As Alec Motyer points out, the future is so certain, it is written as something which has already happened. It is as if Isaiah were saying, "Look forward to it. It is certain. He has already done it"
The Great Birthday by C. H. Spurgeon
The shepherds were keeping their flocks by night. Probably a calm, peaceful night, wherein they felt the usual difficulty of keeping their weary eyelids open as sleep demanded its due of them. All of a sudden, to their amazement, a mighty blaze lit up the heavens and turned midnight into midday!
Malankara World Christmas Supplement
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