From Awful to Awestruck
The life of a shepherd was not always an easy one. It could be a very lonely journey, as shepherds found themselves spending great quantities of time by themselves or with other shepherds on isolated hills or in remote pastures away from the flow of the everyday life of their culture. Many shepherds were actually looked down on and some were even despised. They were the ones that the more cultured people tried to avoid coming into contact with. It took a unique type of person to be a shepherd, someone who was humble and not afraid to be alone; someone who was fulfilled by caring for vulnerable animals that were prone to wander.
Shepherds were ordinary people like you and me and experienced many of the same problems that we face – although some of their problems may have manifested themselves a little differently than ours. The shepherds who worked together probably did not all get along with each other. Undoubtedly there were disputes and accusations and some shepherds may have tried to cheat and take advantage of other shepherds. Some were probably burdened with debt and relationship problems and a general sense that their lives were not going in the direction that they had anticipated.
All of this changed for a brief moment in time for a group of shepherds who were living and working near Bethlehem at the time of Jesus’ birth. In an instant, everything flipped from ordinary, and maybe even awful, to what left them in a state of being awestruck. Imagine a cold, cloudless night on a deserted hillside. The glowing lights of Bethlehem can be seen in the distance. The sheep have stopped grazing for the day and have laid down to rest. Fires are crackling and burning for warmth and to prepare simple food, and everything is just as it has been for the past days, weeks, and months. Suddenly, without any warning at all, the spiritual realm intersected with the physical world as Heaven opened its door and an angel stepped out and appeared before these shepherds. The air was probably charged with excitement and expectancy moments before the angel appeared, the kind of feeling that pulses before something big happens.
At that pivotal point in time, those shepherds became witnesses to something vast and extraordinary, an event that rarely happens. The night sky was illuminated with a blazing white light as a powerful being, who glowed with Heaven’s glory, made an announcement that would change the world. Startled shepherds cried out and dropped whatever they had been doing. Every other thought and concern fled from their minds. The Bible tells us that they were terrified. Then the angel spoke. He announced that a Baby who was also a Savior had been born in Bethlehem that very night, and that they were all invited to go to and see this exceptional Child. Shepherds were the people who were never invited to anything, and yet here they were being handed invitations to the first, and by far the best, Christmas party ever. Then their eyes were opened even further and they saw vast numbers of angels filling the sky and shouting praise and worship to God. What an honor it must have been to be the human audience of this unprecedented angelic event.
Then, just as quickly as the experience started, it was over, and all that remained was echoes of praise bouncing around the hills until the last sound evaporated into the night air and all was quiet again. There was probably a good amount of confusion in the few moments after the angels left, as the men were silent at first and then all began to talk at once. They probably compared stories with each other to make sure that others actually saw and heard what they themselves had seen. They wondered what had just happened and what it all meant. Then, one-by-one, they began to get up, gather their things, and head in the direction of Bethlehem.
Why was this most magnificent announcement reserved for what must have seemed like the least likely recipients? Why didn’t the angel visit the powerful political figures or the influential religious leaders of that time? Wouldn’t that have been a better way to announce and get the word out about the birth of the Savior? As always, we can see that God’s ways are better even if they don’t make sense at first. We find out later that the king of that time tried to kill Jesus because he felt threatened by Him. Herod ended up causing great sadness and despair by taking the lives of most of the children two years old and under. It was the religious leaders who later led the effort to crucify Jesus at the end of His earthly ministry.
Instead, God chose unlikely people to receive this proclamation – shepherds who were humble and unassuming and were willing to leave behind the comfortable and known and seek after the unknown. God has a heart for people who are humble and will listen to Him and follow Him even when another way seems better. James 4:5 tells us that God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. God also seems to have a special place in His heart for shepherds. Jesus referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd who watches over and cares for His flock. Shepherds may not have been the most popular people of that time, but in God’s eyes those shepherds were treasured and worth playing a part in the amazing Christmas story.
God doesn’t usually work in our lives in the same way that He worked in the lives of those shepherds so long ago, although He could if He wanted to. Instead, He personally works within the hearts and minds of those who have accepted His Son. If we would just open our eyes, we would see many things in our own lives that would leave us awestruck – having a personal and individual relationship with God Himself, being able to reach out to Him and allow Him to lead us on this often difficult journey that we call life, and having our feet firmly planted on a road that will lead us to eternity with Him. If you know Him, let the reality of all of that penetrate your mind and leave you awestruck. The encounter that the shepherds had with the angels came and then was gone, but we can enjoy a steady, although sometimes subtle, flow of God’s presence in our lives as we open up to Him and allow Him to lead us each day.
Journal Prompt/Discussion Questions//
Can you put yourself in the shoes of one of the shepherds in the Christmas story?
How would you have reacted to the visit by the angels?
Life can sometimes be awful, but can you look again with new eyes and allow yourself to become awestruck by what God has done and will do in your life?
Lord, as I read the story of Your birth I am asking for fresh insight and a glimpse of what it was really like. Help me to look at my own life with a new appreciation for what it means to know You and to follow you during the days of my journey.