8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.”
The shepherds are a beloved part of the birth narrative of Jesus. I’m almost sixty-one years old and I’ve yet to hear anyone tell me that they don’t like the shepherds. What makes the shepherds so appealing to us? I think more than anything else, they are us!
It can be hard to imagine ourselves as Mary. It’s difficult to place ourselves in the shoes of Joseph. But the shepherds we can understand. As the saying goes, “They’re just ordinary Joe’s.” They didn’t have (up to this point) any heavenly encounters with angels. Nor did they receive any special messages from God. They were simple people going about their ordinary business the best they could.
Yet, we wouldn’t for a minute call them “ordinary” today would we? So, what does that say about us? I think a lot! It tells us that a person doesn’t have to be in the spotlight to honor God. A person doesn’t have to hold a certain status before God will speak to them, or use them for his ongoing ministry. The shepherds stand in the story as examples of ordinary people who were made privy to the good news that the Messiah had come into the world.
That’s great news for us, because although every one of you is special to me and our community, the world doesn’t necessarily see you in that light. But at Christmas when the shepherds enter the story it tells us that those things don’t matter. What does matter is that when we get the invitation to greet Jesus on Christmas morning, we do so.
One of the Christmas “classics” that has stood the test of time is “It’s A Wonderful Life.” It came out in 1947 (73 years ago). If I would ask you what is it about the movie that makes it so popular after all these years, no doubt the number one response would be something like this: “It reminds us how important we, and everyone else, truly is. The movie shows how each one of our actions can be a blessing to people. It shows – us ordinary people – that we matter, and actually matter in a HUGE way.”
Actor Jimmy Stewart, who starred in the film, offered this reflection on its meaning, “The character I played was George Bailey, an ordinary kind of fella who thinks he’s never accomplished anything in life. His dreams of becoming a famous architect, of traveling the world and living adventurously, have not been fulfilled. Instead; he feels trapped in a humdrum job in a small town. And when faced with a crisis in which he feels he has failed everyone, he breaks under the strain and fees to the bridge.
“That’s when his guardian angel, Clarence, comes down on Christmas Eve to show him what his community would be like without him. The angel takes him back through his life to show how our ordinary everyday efforts are really big achievements. Clarence reveals how George Bailey’s loyalty to his job at the building-and-loan office was saved families and homes, how his little kindnesses have changed the lives of others, and how the ripples of his love will spread through the world, helping make it a better place.
“Today, after all these years, I’ve heard the film called ‘an American cultural phenomenon.’ Well, maybe so, but it seems to me there is nothing phenomenal about the movie itself. It’s simply about an ordinary man who discovers that living each ordinary day honorably, with faith in God and a selfless concern for others, can make for a truly wonderful life.”
None of us, if we somehow could meet one of those Christmas shepherds would dare to call them “ordinary,” and people, that goes for you too! So, go now and live out your lives in praise to God, and know that what you are doing is extraordinary.
~ God bless, Dan