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A Shepherd's Christmas Luke 2:8-20


Introduction: God's Use of Ordinary People

I love the writing of pastor and author, Chuck Swindoll. He once wrote something quite profound about the Christmas holiday. He said:

Take the year 1809. The international scene was tumultuous. Napoleon was sweeping through Austria; blood was flowing freely. Nobody then cared about babies. But the world was overlooking some terribly significant births.

For example, William Gladstone was born that year. He was destined to become one of England's finest statesman. That same year, Alfred Tennyson was born to an obscure minister and his wife. The child would one day greatly affect the literary world in a marked manner. On the American continent, Oliver Wendell Holmes was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts. And not far away in Boston, Edgar Allan Poe began his eventful, albeit tragic, life. It was also in that same year that a physician named Darwin and his wife named their child Charles Robert. And that same year produced the cries of a newborn infant in a rugged log cabin in Hardin County, Kentucky. The baby's name? Abraham Lincoln.

If there had been news broadcasts at that time, I'm certain these words would have been heard: "The destiny of the world is being shaped on an Austrian battlefield today." But history was actually being shaped in the cradles of England and America. Similarly, everyone thought taxation was the big news--when Jesus was born. But a young Jewish woman cradled the biggest news of all: the birth of the Savior."

How profound! The truth is that the world almost always overlooks the most important events and the most important people in life. When it comes to people, the reason they ignore them is that most of the time, these individuals don't come covered in the shiny glitter of fame, fortune, power, and influence. They are, rather, disguised as family and friends. These influencers don't always make the nightly news. And sometimes the impact seems so small and so insignificant at first. Except to you who know them well. They are those who love you for you and not for what you can do for them. These people are the ones that won't abandon you when tragedy strikes in your life. Rather, they will rally around you and will fight with you as you attempt to get back on your feet. They make a difference in your life and that of others just by being there when you really need them.

Of course, the most significant and influential person that anyone could ever know is the God who created us and controls the universe that we all inhabit. If a king, a president, or any other dignitary would come into our midst, we would roll out the red carpet, have a parade, and perhaps, throw a banquet in his honor. However, more than 2000 years ago the King of Kings and Lord of Lords came into this earth, and most didn't even know that He'd arrived. For He had come in the form of a baby boy. And babies are some of the most helpless creatures that God has ever created.

The world seemingly went on as normal when Jesus Christ, the Second person of the Holy Trinity, came to dwell for a while among us and be our Savior. However, at the same time, nothing would ever be the same.

God loves to wrap the extraordinary, in the ordinary things in life such as the birth of a child. In the same way, the Lord mostly chooses ordinary people to do His work of spreading the good news of His Son stepping out of eternity into time. I love what the apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 1:27-29 when he tells us:

"But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God has chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; And base things of the world, and things which are despised, has God chosen, yes, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: That no flesh should glory in his presence."

And who were the first of the lowly people that God chose to hear about and to reveal the greatest news that has ever been spoken? He chose shepherds. The story in Luke 2:8-20 goes like this:

"And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; You shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them."

Now that we have read the story, let us look a little more carefully at this passage and see what we can learn from these men who heard and obeyed God's voice through the intercession of the angels.

I. The Identity of the Shepherds

First of all, who were these shepherds to whom the angel told the good news of Jesus' birth? They were nomadic men who lived isolated lives with their flocks, providing for all the needs of the sheep. By day they would lead them to find food and water. By day and night, they would protect them from any predators that might try to make a meal of one of the helpless creatures they attended. Being a shepherd was more like a lifestyle than just a mere job. It was a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week life to make sure that the whole flock stayed safe, well-fed, and watered.

These particular shepherds were living with their flocks outside of Bethlehem. They were local Jewish men who did the job that no one else wanted. The men did the hard mundane tasks of life. Shepherds were a familiar sight in those days. They could be seen wandering around with their sheep constantly. At night they would group together for added protection from predators that wanted to devour the sheep.

Usually, shepherds placed their flocks in stone ‘folds’, which were round enclosures about the shoulder height of a man. Each shepherd in the surrounding fields would bring his flock there at night.

The reputation of the shepherd in Jesus' day was not good. Early in the Old Testament, the job was seen as respectable. However, as the Jews left their nomadic life and became more accustomed to farming, that reputation began to decline. David, the shepherd king elevated their status for a while. However, that status quickly deteriorated after his death. Some actually earned a bad reputation by practicing lawlessness, while others were merely the victims of the stereotype believed about them.

Randy Alcorn had some informative words to say about these men. He said:

"In general, they were considered second-class and untrustworthy." Jeremiah, the prophet who authored the book of Jeremiah, documented that shepherds were deprived of all civil rights. They could not fulfill judicial offices or be admitted in court as witnesses. However, the temple still needed them, ironically. Pharisees needed shepherds to raise spotless lambs for sacrificial sin offerings."

Needless to say, the life of the shepherd was hard. It was a thankless job, but as someone once said: "Somebody had to do it!"

II. The Message to the Shepherds (8-14)

And what happened to these men that night, no one would have ever expected. One would think that the message of the Messiah, the King of Israel and Savior of the world would come to Jewish officials, the religious elites of the world. However, that didn't happen. And if it had, they probably wouldn't have accepted it. Most of them didn't accept Him during His whole life. As a matter of fact, it was because of these officials that Jesus was crucified.

Rather, the shepherds were given the message. They represented the common people of Israel who were mostly overlooked. Growing up in Jewish households, they probably had heard about the Messiah, long predicted by the ancient prophets. The Messiah or the Christ, which is what He was called in the Greek language, was the one who was to come. Later Jesus would preach that those who truly seek out and acknowledge Him and come into His Kingdom would be the ones who are humble and realize their need for a Savior. These particular shepherds were just that. They were humble and willing to listen to the angel of the Lord that had come.

You can imagine that a loud voice from heaven announcing the birth of Jesus would be a terrifying thing. The angel put them at ease by telling them not to be afraid. He told them the message that he was bringing would be good news that would bring great joy to all people. The long-awaited Savior, the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, the City of David, as the prophets had predicted (9-11).

Not only that, but God would give them a sign. If they would go and look, they would find a baby, wrapped in swaddling clothes. These were strips of cloth used to bind a baby tightly to protect it from injury. And they were also believed to strengthen the limbs.

That baby in those swaddling clothes would be laid in a manger, the feeding trough of an animal (12).

After all of these instructions, the angel was joined by a host of other angels. The term 'host' is a military term used to describe an army encampment. Revelation 5:11 suggests that the number of the angelic host may be too big for humans to imagine. It is they who said these words:

“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!” (NKJV). (14)

Some of the newer versions, because of a variant reading in texts say this:

"And on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased." (14)

If this is the case, then it would show the truth found in other Scriptures that peace is a gracious gift to those who are the objects of His pleasure. That is those who accept the gift of salvation by faith in Christ. Either way, it is good news for everyone who wants it.

III. The Response of the Shepherds (15-20)

The last section of this Scripture, verses 15-20, shows the humble response of the shepherds to the angel's message. As soon as the host of angels left them, the shepherds immediately decided to go to Bethlehem and see for themselves what the Lord had made known to them (15).

They hurried as quickly as they could and found Mary and Joseph. They also found the babe lying in the manger, just as the angel had told them (16).

However, unlike many today, the shepherds didn't keep the wonderful news to themselves. They rather made it known widely that which the angels had told them about the Christ child. In fact, they so convincingly told others that those who heard what had happened marveled at what they were saying (17-18).

The Scripture says in verse 19 that Mary "pondered" all the things that she had heard in her heart. She was one that had received her own angelic visitation months earlier telling her that she was with child from the Holy Ghost.

And the shepherds, who probably never were the same again, "returned glorifying God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them." (20).

These simple, humble shepherds, by believing in God and obeying Him, contributed to the proclamation of the Christ child and participated in God's plan to save the world, by letting others know what the Lord had done in their midst. While others slept, the shepherds helped change the world. And by faith, we can do the same thing.


The question is: 'What are we doing to be more like the shepherds, and less like those who merely slumbered while God was making history? We can't say that we aren't talented enough or able to speak. Neither were they particularly talented or persuasive in that way. We could say that no one will listen. But that's not true. God is preparing hearts right now so that you could reach those He has prepared to hear and receive the gospel of Jesus Christ. Whatever excuse any of us can come up with, the shepherds could have used a similar one.

The main difference between them and us is that we know the full story of that Christ child who lived a perfect, sinless life. Then He died to take our sins upon Himself and give, to those who trust in Him, His righteousness. He arose three days later and is coming again as King of Kings and Lord of Lords to judge the living and the dead, and to set up His eternal Kingdom that shall have no end.

We have a message to tell to the nations of how, on that day more than 2000 years ago, the Christ child entered this world. And, like the angels, we can say: "Glory to God in the highest! Peace on earth good will toward men!!"

There is no higher calling than that. May we proclaim Jesus Christ's birth into this world, until we leave it in death. Or better still! Until He comes back to take us all home!!

© 2022 Jeff Shirley