The shepherds are a part of every Christmas nativity scene. But what can we learn from those first shepherds we remember every Christmas?
“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and 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 heaven,
And on earth peace among those whom he favors!’
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.” (Luke 2:8-18 NRSV)
1) “In that region there were shepherds living in the fields.”
“That region” refers to the region near Bethlehem. Traditionally the place identified with the shepherds’ field is the town of Beit Sahur, an eastern suburb of Bethlehem.
2) “Keeping watch over their flock by night.”
Imagine you are one of those shepherds. It seemed to be a night like any other night. You are watching over your sheep in the wide open field. It is dark. No city lights like we know today, just the stars shining in the dark, night sky.
3) “Then an angel of the Lord stood before them...and they were terrified.”
An understandable response! Can you imagine the shepherds looking around at each other thinking, “do you see what I see?”
4) “But the angel said to them…”
Still imagining you are among those shepherds, not only is the angel of the Lord standing before you, but now the angel is speaking to you! The angel, seeing that you all are terrified, says “Do not be afraid.” You first need to not be afraid so you can hear the glorious announcement the angel is about to make!
5) “I am bringing you good news of great joy…”
This glorious announcement is that the long-awaited Savior, the Messiah is born! And he has been born in Bethlehem…not far from where you are standing!
Three possible locations at Beit Sahur have been identified as the place of this wonderful announcement: 1) the Greek Orthodox site in the eastern part of Beit Sahur where the Church of the Shepherds stands; 2) the Catholic site on the north ridge of Beit Sahur where the Chapel of the Angels stands; and 3) the Protestant site, known as the Protestant Shepherd’s Field, east of the Greek Orthodox and Catholic sites where there is a meadow filled with pine trees. (For more information on these sites, see the Holy Land and Sacred Destinations.
6) “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place…”
After an encounter like the shepherds just experienced, who wouldn’t want to go and see “this thing that has taken place”? I can just imagine the shepherds taking off running in their sandals, dust flying behind them as the “went with haste” to see this child, the Messiah for whom they had been waiting!
7) “They made known what had been told them about this child.”
There he was, the one whom the angel had told the shepherds about, the one whom the “multitude of the heavenly host” sang praises to God about! They had to go and tell everyone what the angel had told them about this newborn child! What would you have done?