1 In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2 (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3 And everyone went to their own town to register.
4 So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5 He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6 While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7 and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks 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.”
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 favour rests.”
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. 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.
The Shepherds’ Encounter
Can you imagine the scene. We tend to see the scene of the shepherds on our Christmas cards, standing, leaning on their staffs, looking at the sky or at the angels. A lovely scene with the sheep standing by. But actually, the scene is quite different. An Angel appears and the shepherds were terrified! You can imagine them standing with their hands over their eyes and trembling at the heavenly being that is now in front of them. Not what they were expecting while doing their usual nightly sheep watch!
But then the angel spoke – ‘Don’t be afraid’ I bring good news. A Saviour has been born TO YOU.’
The gospel came first to ordinary shepherds on a hillside going about their work.
And then the angel said there was ‘A sign TO YOU. A baby, wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ v12
A sign? A baby!? And before they had time to think or speak to one another...
‘Suddenly, a great company of angels appeared, praising God and saying... ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’ v14
Today, we don’t have an angel or a great company of them to declare the good news...God has chosen to send us, Christians, to declare it, not just at Christmas but all year round. But Christmas gives us an opportunity to announce, like the angel did, that a Saviour has been born. God in flesh, Immanuel, FOR YOU.
What was the shepherds response, v15. Let’s go... v16 …they hurried off...
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if folks who hear the good news hurried off this Christmas to find the Saviour born for them, who died for them, who lives for them.
And then wouldn’t it be amazing if they go and spread the word as the shepherds did in v17 ‘when they had seen him, they spread the word’.
Were they the first evangelists too?
And wouldn’t it be great, if after Christmas, the saved folks go back to their jobs giving praise to God in the highest heaven, to a different life like the shepherds did in v20 (the first worshippers?).
‘they returned to their life on the hillside glorifying and praising God for all the things they had seen and heard...just as they had been told.’
But now the shepherds had something they didn’t have before...they had seen the Saviour, surely God’s favour had rested on them, and they had the peace that the angel had spoke of.
What peace is it? not that which ceases from an earthly conflict, but a heavenly peace from God. And we too have that peace the angel declared when we believed the full gospel message that Jesus, the Saviour who was born, has saved us from the wrath of God by securing peace with God through the forgiveness of our sin, purchased by Jesus’ death and resurrection.
So, as we come to this Christmas season, when open air preaching takes place, and many opportunities arise through carol services, pray for the preachers and speakers to have boldness, for the Word to have a lasting impact in everyone’s everyday life. Pray that we wouldn’t just put baby Jesus back in the roof till next year but carry on praising and rejoicing that a Saviour has been born.
Remember all the services that will be going on, not only in churches, but also those put on by secular people too; in care homes and schools, and on the TV.
Remember what Jesus said when he was asked by his disciples in Matthew chapter 19:25-26 … “Who then can be saved?”
26 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”