Advent 2019: Shepherds

By Jamie Harms

Have you ever waited for something expectantly? I remember as a child waiting along with all my siblings and cousins for Christmas morning. All month we enjoyed the lights and the music and watched the beautifully decorated gifts appear under the tree. On Christmas Eve, we would all crawl into our sleeping bags at my aunt’s house so excited for the next morning. However, we could not just get up and dive into the presents. We had to wait. We would wake up early and wait for my uncle to finish brewing the coffee before he would patter down the hallway to turn on Manhiem Steamroller’s Christmas album, beckoning us all into the living room for our Christmas celebration complete with the presents.  

The shepherds on that original Christmas night were waiting for something, too. They grew up under the oppression of the Romans as they awaited their Messiah. He was coming to set them free. They went about their daily tasks hoping that the day for the Messiah to appear would come soon. Then one night as they tended to the sheep, a whole sky full of angels heralded Christ’s coming to them first. The least of these in the Israelite community were the first to know that the Messiah was here! Not only did they hear about His arrival first, they had the joy of worshiping Him face-to-face.  

I can only imagine how filled with joy the shepherds were knowing that the Messiah was here. Part of their joy came from the hope that they would be saved from Rome in their lifetime. However, God had something bigger in mind, even if they did not understand it at the time. He was not going to save them from the Romans like they had wanted but was going to save them from their sin, so they could be free from fear no matter who was in power. Often we find ourselves in a similar situation. We find joy in our Savior and expect that means He will save us from our circumstances. Instead He is Emmanuel — God with us — in our circumstances. Many of us struggle to find joy during the Christmas season because life does not look like what we think it should, much like the shepherds might have struggled not being freed from the heavy hand of Rome. Yet, despite the brokenness in our own hearts and the world around us, Christ our Messiah is with us and redeeming the broken, so one day when He comes again, all will be made right. May we cling to the joy that comes from the hope we have in our Emmanuel.

Shepherd’s Candle: As you light the Shepherd’s candle today, read Luke 2:8-20 and sing “While Shepherds Watched Their Flock,” remembering that our joy is found in our God, who is with us in any circumstance and is coming again to make all things whole.

This Week’s Reading and Singing

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,  and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

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 all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

Luke 2:8-20

While shepherds watched their flocks by night, all seated on the ground, the angel of the Lord came down, and glory shone around.

“Fear not!” said he, for mighty dread had seized their troubled mind; “Glad tidings of great joy I bring to you and all mankind.

“To you, in David’s town, this day is born of David’s line a Savior, who is Christ the Lord, and this shall be the sign:

“The heav’nly Babe you there shall find to human view displayed, all meanly wrapped in swathing bands, and in a manger laid.”

Thus spake the seraph and forthwith appeared a shining throng of angels praising God on high, who thus addressed their song:

“All glory be to God on high, and to the Earth be peace; Good will henceforth from heav’n to men begin and never cease!”

“While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks” by Nahum Tate