The Hope of Christmas

“When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child … And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” – Luke 2:15-20

When the angels went away from them into heaven …

Imagine the looks the shepherds must have given each other that night when the last angel soared away through the sky.

Did that just happen?

They had heard the most wondrous announcement of the ages – a Savior is born! – and then they were left alone. From blazing glory to the dead of night. From thunderous song to eerie silence. From angels to sheep.

What must have rushed through their minds? The prophecies fulfilled, the long silence broken, a Messiah come to Earth – and they are the first to know?

The lowly and foolish of the world had been chosen to shame the wise. And they had work to do.

“Let us go,” they said, and they did.

And they went with haste …

What did they talk about on the way? What else could they talk about? These rough, dusty men must have chattered like schoolgirls.

God becoming man? Really? If it were true, these shepherds were key players in the grand cosmic story of redemption. They were a piece of the puzzle that had been so confusing for so many silent years but now, in the fullness of time, was clicking into place with startling speed.

When they arrived at the stable in the prophetic town so small among Judah and saw that it was true, that the infinite God, who was in the beginning – who was, in fact, before the beginning – was now lying where cattle snouts had been the day before.

They couldn’t help it then, they burst forth with a torrent of words telling anyone who would listen about the angels’ message, that this baby was the Messiah, sent to redeem those under the law, to make propitiation for their sins and to adopt them into his family. He was God, and now he was man too.

And the shepherds returned …

You know what the shepherds did when it was all over? They went home. They went back to their lives and their sheep. They didn’t cash in on their 15 minutes of fame. They didn’t build a personal brand and launch a website and give $25,000 speeches recounting their extraordinary experience. They did tell people about what they had seen, but they did so as it had been told them, with the emphasis on the miraculous baby, not on themselves.

They returned home to live quiet, faithful, ordinary lives. They herded sheep. They raised kids. They made their way.

From the outside, their lives looked like they did before the sky split open that night. But in reality, everything had changed. They now had a reason to live. They knew God had become man – an unthinkable proposition the day before.

So when their kids yelled at them and they stepped in sheep dung and they forgot to pick up the milk on the way home and the umpteenth thing broke in their house and the shepherding didn’t bring in quite enough money and their kids threw up down the stairs and everywhere, well, there was an underlying peace amid the mundane frustration. God became man.

Maybe some of the shepherds were dealing with tragedy and hurt and loss that first Christmas. Maybe they didn’t understand why they had to travel a dark road, but they found a glimmer of light when they saw that newborn baby. Maybe somewhere deep inside, in the midst of the hurt and pain of their fallen world, they knew that his presence signaled a beginning to the end of the suffering.

2,000 years later, we’re still not at the end, but when the baby in a manger comes again as a conquering King, well, he’ll be surrounded by those angels and no sin or tragedy or pain or grief will stand in his way as he brings his children home to glory.

Trying to comprehend the incomprehensible could occupy the shepherds’ minds while they went back to the monotony of sheep. Their attempts at comprehension inevitably turned then, as ours do now, to adoration because they – and we – cannot understand, but they – and we – can come and adore him, Christ the Lord.

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