For some reason this Christmas I have found myself focusing on the story of the shepherds in the Nativity.
8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
Imagine what it must have been like to be one of these shepherds, sitting out in the dark night, minding your own business, when suddenly…. AN ANGEL comes and there is light everywhere!
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. (v10)
Something that always causes me to wonder is why these particular shepherds were chosen for this visitation. I don’t think God said to Gabriel, “Go announce the birth of my Beloved Son to people on earth. Doesn’t matter who,” and I don’t think Gabriel said, “Those shepherds look mighty bored down there; let’s give them some excitement.” And too, this news was fantastically great; why were the shepherds chosen?
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. (v11)
Notice how immediate this news is—“this day.” What better newscaster could one have?! The news isn’t going to trickle out slowly; it is going to hit like the bombshell that it is. And too, the immediacy suggests to the shepherd the possibility of seeing it for themselves, since they are in the immediate neighborhood.
And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. (v12)
This further suggests the possibility that they could see the baby Savior for themselves; they’ve been given a key by which to tell which baby the angel is referring to among all the babies that are in the town. (It wouldn’t do for people to pay homage to the wrong baby, would it?) And the manger-cradle. What mother in her right mind would voluntarily put her baby where cows feed—in tickle-y irritating straw—unless under great necessity? That’s a very good sign. The very circumstances that make it so inconvenient for Mary and Joseph are what make it easy for their child to be found and recognized.
Oh, how thrilling that must have been, to see that army of angels, to hear them exclaiming with such excitement! Others have said that perhaps we were there with them. It is interesting that the angels aren’t praising Jesus; they praise God in the highest for the entire Plan of Salvation that is being put into place. After many years of anticipation, the Atonement is soon to be made, the Resurrection to come! Only this could bring true peace to the earth, and only Atonement for sins could bring good will to fallen men from God. The reconciliation is near.
The great rejoicing of these angels must have built great wonder and anticipation in those shepherds. We too often are unable to see the excitement and wonder in something unless we hear others get excited about it, and the more people we find are excited, the more we see the object of their excitement to be significant. And too, sometimes it is hard to get excited about righteous good things unless we have seen and heard other righteous people get excited about those good things. (Not to mention the difficulty of overcoming the natural man or woman…)
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. (v15)
The shepherds now want to see what they’ve been told about. They have been placed in a position to act, and they take it. It is interesting that they weren’t commanded to go; they made that decision on their own. Choosing to go and see would strengthen their faith.
I wonder how long they searched before they found Jesus? How many cows and goats did they startle, peering into mangers? Eventually they found Him and saw Him just as the angel had said.
And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. (v17)
The shepherds became witnesses, and very enthusiastic ones too. Because there was more than one shepherd that experienced this, they fulfilled the Law of Witnesses. They could say they had heard from an angel where to go, what to look for, and the significance of what they had seen. They could say that they went and saw that it was exactly as the angel had said, therefore, they knew that this baby was to be the Savior.
This story certainly is cause for wondering and something to ponder. The miracles come thick and fast in these stories of the Nativity. I think something in us yearns to have a part in that.
And actually, we DO have a part in this story, over and over again. Our part changes, depending on our circumstances. Sometimes we are the angels that excitedly share the good news of the gospel and the signs by which others can know the true church—“The Holy Ghost will tell you in your mind and in your heart that these things are true.” Sometimes we play the part of the shepherds, receiving the news and the signs and experimenting upon the word. And sometimes we play the part of the wondering crowds whom the shepherds share their witness with of their miraculous experiences; like the crowds, sometimes we haven’t participated, but we learn through others’ experiences, mustering our faith to believe and act.