Merry Christmas! A Savior is born! Glory to God in the Highest and on earth, Peace and good will to all!
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
Luke 2:8-9 – NIV
As a young nurse, I pulled many a night shift. Fresh out of nursing school, you have to pay your dues before moving up to the day shift.
Working nights is hard. Never mind the difficulty of getting enough sleep, the shift itself can be challenging. With less staff on duty, there is less backup when problem situations arise. To manage a crisis, you must be able to think quick on your feet.
On a routine night shift, the paperwork and shift duties are usually caught up somewhere around 3AM. Since most of the patients are sleeping and it is not yet time for the rush of morning duties, things get quiet. A lull washes over the nursing unit, a hushed sense of calm permeates those long dim corridors. It is a time of waiting and watching. When you are sleep deprived to start with, staying awake during those wee hours can be tortuous.
This time of year, I am reminded of some other night shift workers. On a dark, chilly night, these workers passed the wee hours keeping watch over their charges, making rounds through the fields to ensure the safety and well being of their fluffy flocks. Shepherds biding their flocks by night.
What must it have been like for those chosen shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth? Were they tired, trudging through their tasks, trying to stay awake? Had the sheep settled into slumber allowing their masters to find shelter under a boulder, a warmer spot to keep their watch? Were those humble shepherds fighting to stay awake, their eyelids drooping under the weight of their fatigue?
On my long ago night shifts, I can still recall the rush of adrenaline that coursed through my veins when something suddenly went awry. One minute, I was sitting in a rolling desk chair, staring at the monitors, watching the heart rhythms roll across the screen. Just waiting, watching, Diet Coke in hand to stay alert. The sound of the alarm would suddenly break the silence. My eyes would frantically search the screen to identify the anomaly, my brain kicking into gear, processing the problem and telling my feet to move, to get ready to race to the patient’s room. In a single moment, the course of the night could be radically changed.
Was that how it was for the shepherds? Were they just winding away the wee hours when suddenly the sky lit up above them? Were they blinded by the light of the angel’s aura?
I can only imagine their fear at the angel’s arrival. They had to be overwhelmed, confused, even stunned. Surely, adrenaline coursed through their veins. They must have wondered if they were seeing things correctly. “Is this a dream?”
But then the angel spoke. “Fear not!” Did that calm their frayed nerves? “Do not be afraid.” Did that message slow their heart rates?
The Biblical story does not give us the answers to those questions, but it does tell us something very important. The shepherds saw the angel, listened to the message and believed.
How do we know they believed the angel’s proclamation? Because they acted on it. The shepherds took a step of faith and went to see the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. They followed the angel’s instructions.
The Nativity story doesn’t say what happened to the sheep. The wording of Scripture leads us to think that the shepherds left their sheep and set out in search of the stable. If that is the timeline, then the shepherds’ actions are even more amazing. You see, good shepherds don’t leave their sheep alone. Were they so emboldened by the angel’s message that they dropped everything to find the Christ Child?
Whatever the missing details, it is clear that the shepherds came. They came to see the baby. They came to worship the Messiah, and they did not stop there. Those shepherds were so blown away by the magnitude of what they had seen and heard, they had to tell it. They had to share it. The shepherds proclaimed their divine disclosure with everyone who would listen to their story. Their joy could not be contained.
Was there ever a moment of doubt in their minds? Did they ever want to shrug off the vision as some wild dream? Were they fearful and overwhelmed? Given their humanity, they likely felt all of those things.
We don’t really know what thoughts ran through the heads of those simple shepherds on that long ago night. But here’s the thing. The shepherds did not let fear or doubt stop them. Instead, they chose to believe, and because of it, they received.
You and I are often plagued by fears and doubts. There are times when our faith is challenged. There are times when we are uncertain of how to handle our problems, of what action to take at those challenging forks in the road. We find ourselves waiting for answers to tough questions, plagued by monumental problems, longing for divine intervention.
Although we may not receive an angelic proclamation to guide our steps, we can learn from the shepherd’s example. We can learn to cast away our fears and doubts, and take a step of faith. We can trust that God can make the impossible possible. We can release our anguish and rise up from our waiting and watching, ready to meet the looming challenges head on. For God has promised that He will never leave us nor forsake us, that He will go with us, walking alongside us, wherever we may go.
Let us walk with Him today. Let us find the Christ Child once again and let us celebrate this Good News far and wide this Christmas.
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Luke 2:16-18,20 – NIV
O King Jesus, You have come! You have come into this dark world to bring us Light, to give us Hope, to fill us with Joy. O Jesus, we sing Your praises just as those simple shepherds declared Your Glory so long ago. Glory to God in the Highest! Our Joy is complete! You have come! Emmanuel has come!
In the Miraculous Name of Jesus, we give our thanks and praise,