As I prepare my heart for Jesus coming into this world as we celebrate Christmas, I can’t help but think of the shepherds we find in the account of His birth in Luke 2:8-29.
Luke 2:8, “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby keeping watch over their flocks at night.”
Who were the shepherds? They certainly didn’t have a lot to be joyful for. Their job was important but not glamorous, maybe even boring. They were dirty, smelly, and their social status had them on the bottom rung of the ladder. They were looked down upon, treated badly, and couldn’t go into the temple to worship. They had no power or influence and were not permitted to give testimony in a court of law.
And notice they are LIVING in the fields nearby. They’re not just herding the sheep and passing through. It was their lifestyle, and they couldn’t leave. These shepherds were manly men who protected the sheep from wild animals and potential robbers. They had a difficult life and they tended to be loners.
It’s night. A few shepherds are asleep, while others are straining to see in the dark. With one eye on the sheep and the surrounding countryside, they’re having a conversation about who knows what? Maybe it was just normal everyday stuff that guys talked about in those days. But maybe they were talking about how they feel empty, doing the same thing day after day, or about how they longed for the day they could go back to the Temple to worship, or about how they are tired of being looked down upon. Maybe that very night they were wondering when the promised Messiah would come and rescue them from this terrible life they were living. They were waiting, wanting, hoping……
Can you relate? Maybe you have a boring job, and you believe the lie that others think less of you because of it. Maybe you believe you’ve come from a background where you are socially less than others. Maybe you have a past and you can’t shake the stigma associated with it. Maybe you’ve just received a diagnosis of a serious illness. Maybe you feel like you’re living your life in the dark, just like the shepherds.
There they are, sitting around talking, keeping one eye on the sheep, just waiting for a twig to snap when “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.” Luke 2:9-10
The angel says I bring you good news. Nobody ever brought shepherds good news! And if God was announcing the birth of his Son, why wouldn’t he tell the religious leaders or kings? Why shepherds? The angel says this news will cause great joy for all the people. If anyone didn’t have joy in their lives during that time, it would have been the shepherds. And this good news of great joy was not only for them – but it’s for you too!
Are you thinking to yourself right now, “How am I supposed to live in joy when I’m miserable: my spouse just filed for divorce, I just got laid off, I just received a cancer diagnosis.” Look what the shepherds did.
“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.” Luke 2:15-16
The keywords are “hurried off.” When you are serious about encountering Jesus to experience His life-changing joy, you have to leave something behind!! The shepherds walked away from a boring job. They walked away from the darkness of night. They walked away from the very things that gave them any purpose whatsoever – they left the sheep – and went to something so much better. And then, they went right back to work with a whole new joyous outlook.
What about you? As you prepare your heart for Christmas, ponder these three questions:
• What are you doing without joy, that you have to encounter Jesus, and go right back to it with joy?
• What do you have to leave hurriedly in order to encounter Jesus?
• Will you go?
The writer is the discipleship pastor at Connection Point Church of God, Sidney.