Again, as we did last week, before we get to the actual announcement, let us take a moment to look at the message receiver. Our message receiver this evening is not one person, but is a group of people. Our message receivers are the shepherds who were out in the field keeping watch over their flocks by night. It is interesting that the first people who are given the good news of the birth of the Messiah are these shepherds, perhaps this is so because Jesus often refers to Himself as a shepherd and even as the Good Shepherd. And Jesus compares us to sheep. We are like sheep. We have a tendency to follow after the ways and whims of the world. And Jesus is our Good Shepherd who leads us through this earth, this valley of the shadow of death, leading us beside quiet waters and green pastures.
These shepherds were ordinary, common people. They lived their lives caring for and tending the sheep. They were always outside. They probably did not smell as nice as the next person, being out in the heat of the day and in good weather and bad. They may not have been the most educated of the world, but they certainly knew how to take care of sheep. Someone suggested that the sheep they tended may have been those used in the temple as sacrificial sheep. I think that suggestion was simply a way to, shall we say, elevate their standing, which, as we will see is not necessary. These were ordinary shepherds taking care of an ordinary flock of sheep.
Now, we turn our attention to the message giver, the angel. Our Bible narrative tells us that at first there was only one angel. This one angel first appeared with the message of the birth of Jesus. As was the case with the appearance of the angel to Zechariah, Mary, and Joseph, so here the first thing the angel does is to reassure the shepherds with a message of peace, “Fear not . . .” The angel has not come for judgment but to announce good news.
The message of the angel was the announcement of the birth of a child, a son of David, the One promised of old, even the Messiah, the Savior of the world. Yes, some four thousand years has past since God first promised to send a Messiah. Yes, some five hundred years has passed since the children of Israel were a great nation. Yes, some five hundred years have passed since any in Israel has seen or heard a prophet or any first hand message from God. And yet, there were some in Israel who continued to have faith and hope in the coming of a Messiah.
The angel gives a sign so the shepherds will be able to recognize the child about whom they are speaking. The sign is that the baby will be wrapped in, as we say, swaddling clothes, that is the baby will be wrapped in cloth and even more distinctive, the baby will be lying in a manger which is a feeding trough for animals. I believe the second part of this announcement is the more important part, because I do not believe the shepherds will find many babies lying in a feeding trough.
After the angel makes his announcement, he is joined with a great number of angels as a matter of fact our narrative tells us that he was joined by a host of angels. Now, to make sure we have the picture correct, we must look at the word “host.” This word “host” literally means an army. This was an army of angels. Why an army of angels? Because God is taking on human flesh in the birth of a baby, a helpless baby. Because Satan is alive and well, always prowling around seeking someone to devour and because Satan will do anything to destroy Jesus and God’s plan of salvation for all people, God sent His army of angels to guard and protect the baby Jesus. And this host of angels then speak these words of praise and joy, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
The response of the shepherds to this greeting and these words of good news is that they left the sheep in the field, maybe leaving some of the shepherds behind to tend them, or maybe leaving them in some sort of night time corral, but leaving them they hurried to Bethlehem. We are not told how they searched to find the baby, but we are told they came with haste and they did find the baby as they were certainly lead by God. I would suppose that the birth of a child among relatives would be enough of a scene that they would have no trouble finding the child in the small town of Bethlehem.
They found Mary, Joseph and the baby. The found the baby laying in a manger. It was just as the angel had told them. Certainly their appearance was a surprise to Mary and Joseph. It is no wonder we are told that Mary ponder all these things, all these events and kept them in her heart. I would suggest that for the next thirty-three years and even past Jesus resurrection and ascension that Mary thought about these events and I would further suggest that the Lord comforted her in her pondering.
After the shepherds had an opportunity to greet Mary and Joseph and to pay respect to the new born Savior, they left and as they left they went out telling everyone what they had seen. What exciting good news. How could they keep any of this to themselves? They wanted everyone to know the good news they had heard, seen and witnessed. They wanted the world, or at least their little world to know that the Savior was born.
What does this mean? This means that Jesus who is God, truly God and He had to be truly God in order to be born in perfection, has now been born in human flesh. Jesus is truly human and he had to be human in order to be our substitute, in order to trade His perfect life for our imperfect sinful life.
This means that Jesus came for all people, from the lowest shepherds to the greatest, even for those we deem as the greatest, kings, monarchs and rulers. Jesus came as promised in the Garden of Eden, for all people, of all places, of all times.
This means that Jesus’ birth is a big deal. Jesus’ birth ushered in the end times. We celebrate the beginning of the end. We celebrate that we are living in the last days.
What does this mean? Again we notice this evening, it was not the shepherds who approached God. Notice also, it was not because they were blameless that God reassured them. If this statement were true, then we would naturally point to ourselves and we would be the reason that God does what He does. Because we now that we are not the prime movers, but that God is the Prime Mover, we know that it was God who chose Mary and Joseph as her husband. It was God who chose to announce the birth of His Son first to these lowly shepherds. As always, it always begins with God.
Throughout the Old Testament God told His people, you and me included, what was going to happen. Throughout the Old Testament God reiterated His promises to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, King David and the like. It was God who sent His angels to announce to Zachariah that Elisabeth would give birth to the one who would prepare the world for Jesus’ work of salvation. God said all these things would happen and now we are getting God’s fulfillment of these promises. Now we can be certain, from the promises and from the fulfillment that Jesus us who He says He is. Jesus is God. He is God with power. God’s Word is a Word with power, the power to do what He says. As we begin celebrating Jesus’ birth, may we do so in all faith and confidence that this was ordained and accomplished according to God’s good and gracious will and so is efficacious for our salvation. To Him be the glory, for Jesus’ sake. Amen.