Bethlehem isn’t far at all from Jerusalem if you measure the distance in miles.
But it was a world apart if you measure the difference in circumstance.
Like our world today, there was a huge gap between the richest of the rich (King Herod and his cronies, the religious elite) and the poorest of the poor (Mary, Joseph, shepherds and others like them).
Hearts full to overflowing with pride, self-reliance, love of power and money can’t find room for a message that suggests they might need saving.
Empty hearts, hopeless hearts, worn, weary and desperate hearts are hungry to hear that help is on the way.
Maybe that’s why God sent a most spectacular birth announcement to shepherds who were considered the lowest of the low.
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 favor 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.
Luke 2:8-18 NIV
If you do a little digging you will discover that large flocks were kept in Bethlehem to facilitate worship at the Temple in Jerusalem. Since many of the faithful came from quite a distance, instead of bringing a sacrifice they would purchase a suitable animal once they made the trek.
But shepherds rarely got to mix and mingle at the Temple because they were stinky and dirty. It was tough to try to clean up without running water and washing machines. They smelled of sheep, goats and smoke. Not a welcome addition to worshiping crowds.
Yet God deemed these lowly, (probably) uneducated folks worthy of the most spectacular display of His approval and the dawn of a new age of grace. The outcasts became the “in” crowd.
The first messengers of the Good News weren’t priests or royalty, they were regular people.
I know many days I wonder if plodding along in my everyday duties makes a whit of difference in the world. I tire of routine and repeated, ordinary tasks.
But in the Kingdom there is no such thing as meaningless work or unrewarded obedience.
The shepherds were perfectly positioned to receive God’s message and to deliver it to a waiting world.
God has placed me right here right now for His purposes.
I’m not responsible for results.
I’m only responsible for waiting patiently for His direction.
- When you’ve heard the Christmas story over and over it’s easy to miss historical context and the significance of certain details. But Luke specifically set out to give an account of the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus that revealed His deity and God’s purposes. Have you ever thought about how odd it was that shepherds got such special attention and treatment from Almighty God?
- The shepherds apparently discussed what they had seen and heard among themselves. Can you imagine what that sounded like? Do you think you would have second guessed the experience if you had been there? Why or why not?
- Once they saw the Baby they could not contain themselves. Do you remember the joy of salvation when (perhaps) you were compelled to tell everyone the Good News of Jesus? Have you lost that urgency? If you have, how might you regain it?
- People were amazed at the shepherds’ message. I imagine it was partly due to the nature of the story and partly due to the ones who were telling it. Have you ever experienced a time when you were certain the message was from God but the messenger didn’t fit your idea of what he or she should look like? Did you dismiss the message or look past your preconceived notions?
You are no respecter of persons. All are in need of your mercy and grace. You reach out and reach down and reach across divides and prejudices and preconceived notions of who should be “in” and who should be “out”.
Salvation is available to every single heart who chooses to believe in the finished work of Christ. Sometimes I can draw circles around who I think is deserving and who is not. When people don’t look like me, talk like me or think like me I can look down my nose at them and expect You to do the same.
Rescue me from the prison of prejudice!
It’s the worn out and weary who long for a Savior. It’s the breathless and broken who need fresh wind and healing hope.
Thank You for opening my eyes to the truth of the Good News. Help me hold onto the joy of my salvation. May I feel the same urgency as those shepherds long ago to run first to Jesus and then to share Him with everyone I meet.