Picture the scene with me. You’re a night security officer. You’ve just come back from dinner and are intently trying not to fall asleep at your station. It’s quite late at night but you remain faithful to your job. And then, all of a sudden, a bright light begins to shine in front of you and you squint, trying to see who on Earth would switch on such a bright light at night. And lo and behold, you see this figure standing in front of you, apparently emanating this strong light that is blinding you. You are terrified. But as soon as you feel this fear, the figure says, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12). With that, more and more figures appear and they began to chant and sing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” (Luke 2:14). And this goes on and on until, slowly, one by one, the figures leave and you’re alone in your station once again. How would you react?
As Christmas comes around again, as usual, we prepare ourselves for both the birth of Jesus as well as the onslaught of never-ending Christmas carols. One such Christmas carol is Angels We Have Heard on High (or that “GloooOOOOOoooOOOOooooOOOOOooooria song). But, instead of focusing on the extended Gloria, I wanted to zoom in to another verse in this Christmas carol:
Shepherds, why this jubilee?
Why your joyous strains prolong?
What the gladsome tidings be?
Which inspire your heavenly songs?
The scene I asked you to imagine is my take on what the angels’ visitation to the shepherds might have looked like in a modern context. How would I have reacted if such a scene happened to me? A younger me might have thought that the late night and the lack of sleep must have addled my brain. Even the current me might take a few seconds to wonder if that really happened. But the difference between the younger me and the older me was that the older me would have then realised the joy and the hope that would have undoubtedly filled my heart and leaped out of my station to run and see this Messiah that the angels were preaching. Reflecting on the shepherds, I think some of us may take for granted that the next logical step to do after seeing such a thing would be to follow the angel’s instructions to see the Messiah. However, I don’t think so. Firstly, they had a job to tend to their sheep, especially at night when the chances of predators are higher. Secondly, they had to travel to see Jesus. Not too far, true, but effort was needed nevertheless. It wasn’t just angels appearing and then bam! Transported to Jesus. The angel’s revelations might have prompted their actions but they had to choose and then put in the effort to act on it. Lastly, they needed to have faith. I think this is important. It’s not a logical step, but a step that the shepherds took in faith and in hope. It’s important to realise that the shepherds could have very well went back to simply watching their sheep. Just like how Moses could very well have simply walked away from the burning bush. Or David could have just refused to be king. Or how the younger me, in his apathy towards God, might have simply gone back to daily work. The shepherds had a choice; they chose to follow God.
More than that though, they needed a heart that was open and sensitive to the Lord. Now, I’m quite sure that the Pharisees and the Sadducees were faithful people too. A bit misguided, but faithful to God. However, had they been approached by the angels, I doubt they would react in the same way as the shepherds, similar to how Zechariah doubted Elizabeth’s conception of another child. The shepherds weren’t in the highest of positions (in fact, they rank quite low in the social ladder at that time). And yet, they had a humility and openness of heart that allowed the message of the angel to spur their hearts and inflame them to run all the way to see the baby Jesus. In Daniel 5:20, it says “But when his heart was lifted up and his spirit was hardened so that he acted proudly, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and his glory was stripped from him” regarding King Nebuchadnezzar. Many a times, I wonder if my heart had not been so hard, would I have been able to see the glory of God in the small things in my life and be able to relish in His glory instead of simply walking by? If the angels appeared to me as they did to the shepherds, would my heart have been open enough to fully marvel and be filled with God’s glory instead of going back to where I once was?
Scripture tells us: “So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” (Luke 2:16-20). In this Christmas time, let us remember to be like the shepherds. May we remember to keep our hearts open to the Lord and to keep faith, even amidst the festivities of Christmas. May we remember that only through this, can we experience what the shepherds experienced on that night 2000 years ago – true joy at the birth of the Messiah.
© 2017 Christ Centered Conversations/Gregory Adrian Gunawan