In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. (Luke 2:8)
The Luke account offers some interesting ideas when we consider the shepherds. They were confronted by an angel of the Lord and they are terrified. Why? Had they missed a few too many Sabbaths? Maybe it was their understanding of this God of theirs, a God of vengeance, a God of the apocalyptic of Daniel. We can be assured that they had no more insight to what God was up to than the traditional Hebrew understanding of that day: Arriving on a mighty steed, wielding a double edge sword, a political solution.
As shepherds, they were probably not the most welcome in the synagogue, so perhaps they had even less knowledge than we first thought. But let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. So, they think they know God. Now all of a sudden one of God’s messengers is talking to them and they know him so well they are, terrified!
Terrified! ! ! Why should they be terrified?
They are told that the Messiah, the Anointed One, is born in the city of David. “This will be your sign, a baby wrapped in strips in cloth.” They then witness a very cool demonstration in the skies, including a great number of angels saying: Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all people. If they weren’t nervous before they sure should have been by now. They decide to leave the sheep with the angels and head for town.
The thoughts they shared on the way could have been these: “Let’s see, what did they say now, a sign was to be a baby wrapped in cloth and lying in a manger.” said the first shepherd. The second shepherd thought, “This is just a sign, the prophets told us through the scriptures what great and mighty things God will do. Surely our God wouldn’t start our Messiah out in a feed trough, it’s only the sign of the birth, right?” A third shepherd suggested, “Well, the prophet Micah did say that out of Bethlehem will come the ruler of all Israel.”
The first shepherd assured, “We must be in the right place! Isaiah says that he will bring justice to the entire world. I’m for that, besides, I’m sort of tired of being a shepherd anyhow. He can get us out of our rut.”
“But we’re going just to see a baby, right?” said the second. “Yes, that’s the sign of the Messiah’s coming. You must be right, it’s only a sign.”
They all agreed.
On to Bethlehem, and after some searching, they found a hotel. They were greeted coolly by the inn keeper, surely they smelled rather bad. “We’re looking for a sign.” said one shepherd. The innkeeper pointed to one just above the doorway where they were standing, saying that it was in fact an inn. “No”, they said, “We mean a baby sign.” Now the inn keeper knew why they were shepherds.
He moved to close the door, but they questioned again. “We are looking for a new baby, perhaps you know of one?” “Oh yes, responded the keeper, “perhaps the ones you are looking for are out in the stable. I sent them out there earlier; I’m full up in here.”
The shepherds went around back and sure enough, there was a baby wrapped in strips of cloth, in the manger. This is exactly what they had been told to look for. This was it! There could be no mistake now; they were in the right place, no doubt about it. The angels were right, God has come through, and this IS the sign. The Messiah we have waited for is coming.
They ran out of the stable and into the streets, praising God for, all they had heard and seen, telling everyone whom they met of the sign, and of the angels and how they were right down to the last detail. This truly was the sign. The Messiah is here …………………. somewhere.
After the initial excitement had settled slightly, they went back to the stable to see again. They were beside themselves praising God. God had come through. All that God had said in the scriptures was true; it was all possible, the prophets were right. God promised himself in the covenant with Abraham, and now it’s true. He is truly faithful. We see it, we’ve seen the sign.
But wait! What did the shepherds see? Did they only see that their God was a righteous God, a God of promise and fulfillment? Did they only see that all that had gone on with the prophets was fulfilled? Did they see the dawn of everything new in this little child, lying in a manger?
It is understandable that the shepherds saw the continuing fulfillment of God’s portion of the covenant, but their comprehension of all this ended with the Hebrew understanding of Gods relationship with His creation. They couldn’t begin to see that the Kingdom of God was upon them, or know the message of Christ’s Gospel.
This was only, to them, a sign.
What do we see? Do we see a God of promises fulfilled? Do we see the love of our God given to his creation through this little child? Do we see the whole gift of God in Christ or only parts of it?
In this Advent season, do we see only the child, the manger, and all that comes to mind when we think of this scene?
Too often we forget and only see what the shepherds saw.
Do we see our God as a God of promise and faithfulness, a God of unending love toward this creation?
What do you see?