Someone else owned the sheep; shepherds merely cared for them.
If there was an economic ladder, they occupied the bottom rung. It was a “starter job” providing the young with employment. Former shepherds went on to more important occupations and kept their humble beginnings a well-guarded secret. A few saw being a shepherd as a satisfying life and stayed with it to old age. They loved being out of doors and the time it gave them to think. When asked, they shared their wisdom with the young and each kept a mental list of those who had gone on to bigger things.
There was always King David to think about.
They sang his songs, the songs of their hero, born like them, in Bethlehem. He wrote them in these very fields. He even claimed that the Lord Himself was the Shepherd of us all. They sang to the sheep and to each other, sharing their own kind of riches: peace, quiet, faith, and a certain confidence in the morning to come.
There were predators out there in the dark beyond the safety of the fire. The sheep bunched together to defend against them. Any hint on the wind of the lion or the wolf would radiate through the flock alerting the shepherds to the danger. The system worked. From generation to generation wealth was measured by the size and health of the flocks a rich man owned. He owned them but shepherds cared for them.
This night was to be so different.
The songs were the same. The noise of the flock was as it had always been. No predators stalked the sheep out there in the dark. There was nothing unusual to report. Their thoughts drifted to dreams of what life might hold for the young and memories of what life held for the old. The present moment held little interest.
Suddenly light flooded the camp, pouring from the skies above them. Shepherd and sheep alike considered running but there was no place to run. From the brightest point a figure began to form—a man, tall and powerful—within the light but also made of light or something like it. A face formed as the man began to speak. Music, distant but distinct, accompanied the voice. They could not understand the angel’s language at first but as they listened the words became clear as did the message.
“Do not be afraid… good tidings of great joy …. For there is born … in the city of David a Savior… You will find a Babe … lying in a manger.”
Before the shepherds could process the words of the one angel, the sky was filled with them. They sang in a plethora of languages but among them was a clear declaration:
“Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”
The light, the singing, the glory all began to swirl in extreme celebration. As powerful as it was there was peace in the middle of it and smiles replaced the fearful looks on the shepherds’ faces. When it seemed it would go on forever, it all began to fade and was soon gone leaving the peaceful night untouched. In the silence that followed, shepherds, from the youngest to the oldest, decided that the thing to do was to obey the angel. They left the sheep and struck out for Bethlehem.
Luke 2:8-20 NKJV
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, 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, goodwill toward men!” So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, “Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them.
Father, we cannot fully understand why You chose to announce the birth of Your Son to shepherds but we draw from it certain truths. Lord Jesus, You came for all of us, from the least to the greatest, from the very rich to the very poor. We rejoice in this condescension. You love us all! You came to redeem us all! Because of this, each of us has a future. Each of us is a part of Your plan; we each have a purpose. Help me live up to that purpose today! In Jesus’ Name! Amen.
While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks by Night
Words: Nahum Tate; Music: G.F. Handel
1. While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground,
an angel of the Lord came down, and glory shone around.
2. “Fear not,” said he for mighty dread had seized their troubled mind
“glad tidings of great joy I bring to you and all mankind.
3. “To you, in David’s town, this day is born of David’s line
a Savior, who is Christ the Lord; and this shall be the sign:
4. “The heavenly babe you there shall find to human view displayed,
all simply wrapped in swaddling clothes and in a manger laid.”
5. Thus spoke the angel. Suddenly appeared a shining throng
of angels praising God, who thus addressed their joyful song:
6. “All glory be to God on high, and to the earth be peace;
to those on whom his favor rests goodwill shall never cease.”
© 2017 Stephen R. Phifer All Rights Reserved