The Shepherds' Example

‘Tis the season for nativity scenes.

Front and center in most is a group of shepherds. The story of the shepherds who came to see Jesus after His birth is as universal and almost as central to our Christmas story as Jesus Himself. I’m sure you remember, but let’s go to the source in Luke 2:8-18.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.  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 of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

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. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.

If someone asked you to outline the main points of this story, how would you respond?

You would note the angels, both the individual spokesangel and the great company. You might mention “peace on earth,” as this is a common Christmas theme. And, of course, the shepherds went to Bethlehem and found Mary, Joseph, and Jesus.

All of that is good, but the best part of the story happens after they find the baby. Many would consider going home after that as very anti-climactic. Not so for those men.

After they left Jesus “they spread the word.” They didn’t have much factual information. They had been told He was the Savior and Christ. This they could understand. They had seen him with their own eyes. With this part of the angel’s testimony corroborated, they had confidence his other words were also true -- this was indeed “good news of great joy . . . for all the people.”

Today we call people like this witnesses. They see, hear, and/or experience something, then tell others.

If you are celebrating Christmas as more than a season or civil holiday, you are probably among those described by the adult Jesus with the words “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jon 20:29), and by Peter “though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8).

If so, we are witnesses in a way the shepherds could not have imagined. We have not seen the baby in the manger, but we have received His grace, His salvation, and are living now by His power.

Let’s then follow the example of the shepherds and spread the word about what we have experienced so that many may do more than just marvel, but trust, believe, and follow.

The Promise

Here we are, just ten days away from Christmas 2017. For those of us who follow Jesus Christ, we enjoy the opportunity to reflect on the birth of the one who would, and has now, brought salvation to all people. In our churches, we’ve heard about a month’s worth of sermons about how this birth came to be. We brought out our old Christmas music, and you’ve probably been listening to carols on the radio for days, weeks, or even months.

I’m told there are about 300 specific prophecies in the Old Testament which were precisely fulfilled with the birth of Jesus two millennia ago. For example, Moses, Isaiah, and Jeremiah all predicted the Messiah would be a descendent of Abraham, through Isaac and Jacob. He would be from the tribe of Judah. He would be a direct descendent of David the second king of Israel. Isaiah foretold his mother would be a virgin. Micah pinpointed the place of birth.

These are only a few of the prophecies having to do with his birth. If we were to continue past the Christmas season, we can tie so many specifics of Jesus ministry and teaching directly to prophecies and foundations laid down in the Old Testament.

Now comes a bit of speculation. If you are like me, you’ve heard of these prophecies and seen them compiled in papers, articles, books. You’ve heard them in sermons. You experience them in music. You might even have thought, “if I had been alive at the time of Jesus’ birth, and if I had been reading the Old Testament as I should have, I would certainly have been more ready for this event then were the people of his day.”

Don’t kid yourself!

When the prophecies are nicely laid out after the fact there is much truth in the statement “hindsight always has 20/20 vision.” In reality, these 300 or so prophecies were scattered throughout the 40 books of the Old Testament. Many were given in passages which seem to relate to more immediate events in Israel’s contemporary history. For example, Isaiah 7:14 contains the well-known prophecy “a virgin shall conceive.” As it turns out, this prophecy had an immediate fulfillment in Israel’s history with the birth of a child to the prophet himself, as well as a longer-term application to the Messiah who was yet to come. So many prophecies of the Old Testament had that same type of dual fulfillment that it would have been difficult for the average person to sort them all out and know precisely what was going to happen and when.

We see from fulfilled history in Matthew and Luke, that several people or groups of people did understand portions of these events. Everyone seemed to be expecting a Messiah, but nobody seemed to expect him to come in the form of a human child. Herod’s advisers in Matthew chapter 2 were able to tell the Magi the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, but they didn’t seem to know when that would happen. If Joseph and Mary had shared the story of her conception through the Holy Spirit, nobody seemed to have paid enough attention to that to put it together with Isaiah’s prophecy.

So where in the world am I going with all of this?

I believe all the events recorded in the Bible are true. I believe the prophecies given in the Old Testament pointing to the day of Christ’s birth were true. I believe the Christmas story happened as recorded by Matthew and Luke.

AND I am realistic enough to know that if I had lived in that time, I probably would’ve missed most of it too.

Where does it leave me now? Just very happy that I live as a follower of Christ today. Happy that I can look back and see what happened, putting the prophecies into perspective, seeing them in logical order, and understanding, in hindsight, how God orchestrated the events of history to come to that one point in time that we call Christmas.

My second-favorite song about Christ’s birth is not a traditional Christmas carol. In 1994, musician Michael Card released the first of three CDs which would chronicle in song the life of Christ. This first CD, The Promise: A Celebration of Christ's Birth, contained a song also titled “The Promise,” seeing Jesus’ birth as the culmination of centuries of prophecy to Israel.

The Lord God said when time was full
He would shine His light in the darkness
He said a virgin would conceive
And give birth to the Promise
For a thousand years the dreamers dreamt
And hoped to see His love
The Promise showed their wildest dreams
Had simply not been wild enough
But the Promise showed their wildest dreams
Had simply not been wild enough

Throughout the Bible, we can read phrases like, “Call to me and I will answer you and tell you great and unsearchable things you do not know” (Jeremiah 33:3) and “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us . . . “(Ephesians 3:20). These, and other passages hint at our lack of full understanding of the things of God, sometimes not even being able to imagine what God has in store for us.

That’s why those last lines of this song continue to grab my heart.

For a thousand years the dreamers dreamt
And hoped to see His love
   The Promise showed their wildest dreams
   Had simply not been wild enough
But the Promise showed their wildest dreams
Had simply not been wild enough

If that’s what we have to look back on, I wonder how much beyond my wildest dreams is the future God has promised us – His church – today – in his word.