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. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
“I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people,” the angel proclaims to the shepherds. There is interesting tension in this statement: the angel brings to a select few the good news that is meant for all.
Why give a message meant for all people to just a few? Why the shepherds?
It is of course possible that God chose the shepherds for God’s own reasons. But there is also another possibility. Perhaps that special, starry night in Bethlehem, all people were invited to the manger and only a few recognized their invitation. Maybe that bright shining star, noticed and followed by the wise men, was meant to be seen by all. Maybe those resounding angelic voices, heard by shepherds, were meant to be heard by all.
It is hard to say why some hear and some do not. But there is great and beautiful hope in the fact that it was the shepherds who did hear. For despite our often-romanticized portrayals of them, the shepherds were the lowliest in society--poor, smelly, and looked down upon. They had nothing, and in the eyes of others they were nothing. But they heard.
Christmastime looks different this year. Its usual pomp and circumstance have been thwarted by COVID-19. Yet as our yearly rituals of parades, shopping malls, and parties fall away and we are forced to forego some of the shiny trappings of the holidays, we may find ourselves experiencing a truer Christmas. For it was shepherds in a field who recognized what many who lived with all the shiny trappings of comfortable wealth did not.
This year may our eyes, less blinded by the lights of shops and parties, catch sight of a shining star of hope. May our ears, less clouded by constant reminders to buy our own celebrations, hear the joyous singing of angels. And may we understand, perhaps more fully than ever, the good news of the Messiah who comes to us in the very midst of our weariness.
God of good news for all people,
Help us to recognize the signs of your coming this Christmas. Help us to see all the ways you meet us in unexpected circumstances, places, and people. And help us to accept with joy the invitation to stand in your presence.