Every story has a cast of characters that give life and reality to the story being told. In my three books, I have tried to make the characters realistic and the kind of people that my readers might want to identify with.
Several years ago, I was asked to give a short talk on Christmas Eve about a character from the Christmas Story that I identified with and would have liked to have been. There are a whole host of characters mentioned in the story. Mary and Joseph played leading roles. The Angels spoke to Mary and Joseph about what God’s plan was and their role in it. Elizabeth and Zechariah were supporting members of the cast and forerunners in the blessing God was about to bestow. Caesar Augustus gave the decree that resulted in Joseph and Mary having to go to Bethlehem. The Innkeeper turned them away when they needed shelter but later offered up a stable for their use. The Magi went on a long journey, following a star to find a King. King Herod’s advisors enlightened the King about a prophecy and the King plotted to intervene in its fulfillment. And, of course, the baby Jesus was the ultimate central character in the story. The “heavenly host” of angels announced his birth.
The unwritten rule in my assignment that cold Michigan winter evening was that I couldn’t select the baby Jesus as the character I would have liked to be. As I thought about the cast of characters, (and I hope I haven’t missed any in what I’ve written thus far), my farm upbringing kicked in and I chose to be one of the group to whom the Angels came to announce the birth of God’s son. As I thought about them and what I would say about them, the Shepherds, in my mind, represented the ultimate examples of what God would like His relationship with us to be.
The Bible introduces us to this group as follows: (King James Version)
And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field,
Keeping watch over their flocks by night. (Luke 3: 8)
These folks were “abiding”. They were “on the job”. They were doing what they were supposed to be doing. They were “keeping watch”. They were alert to anything that could impact their flocks. I’ve heard many speakers talk about the dangers from predators that the shepherd had to be ready for. So I identify with them as honest, hard working people who were on the job and paying attention to what they were supposed to be doing.
Luke goes on to describe the next event that involves the shepherds in verse 9:
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them,
And the glory of the Lord shone around them;
And they were sore afraid.
Can you imagine what that must have been like? It is hard to wrap my mind around it. It was the ultimate in “Close Encounters!” They were enveloped in heaven’s radiance. They experienced on that Judean hillside some of what you and I can hope to experience when we get to heaven. I experienced just a small amount of God’s love 67 years ago when I gave my life to Jesus’ guidance and direction. I have experienced many more manifestations of God’s love since then. So I identify with the shepherds in being exposed to the glory and love of God.
Luke points out that their reaction was what yours and mine might have been, had we been there. They were scared! They were human. This was an experience that was beyond their comprehension. So, I identify with their humanness. They had experienced something that was beyond them and it frightened them. Sometimes God does things in our lives that are so amazing and so wonderful that it scares us!
The Angel gives them the message about a momentous event that has taken place. Notice that while the Angel tells them what has happened and where they can find the proof of it, they are not asked to do anything. I think that is a critical point in the story. They have experienced the glory of God and they have been given the gospel message. What they will do with what they have heard and seen is left to them. The key elements of that message are found in verses 10 and 11:
And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy
Which shall be to all people.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
Three important points support that message. They were given an assurance. When God comes close to us we need to “fear not”. Secondly, this is for everybody (All the people) and thirdly, the Saviour is born for you (Unto you). If the radiance of God’s glory wasn’t enough, the expanse of his love shown in this message is the greatest gift we can receive.
Luke continues his report of what the Angel says to the shepherds by describing where they can find the proof of what they have been told in verse 12 and then the angelic host reinforces the message with a crescendo of glorification to god in verses 13 and 14:
And this shall be a sign unto you; ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, 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, good will toward men”.
This brings me to another reason why I identify with the Shepherds. The angels left it up to them to make a decision of what their response to what they had seen and heard would be. That is still true for you and I today. It says in the following verse (15) that when the wondrous choir they had just listened to went away, they talked over what they had heard and seen and, once they had discussed it, they decided to do something about it. They decided to act! Luke describes it this way:
And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven,
The shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
These folks were not only “on the job” and “alert”, and frightened and amazed at what they had seen. They were people of action! They didn’t just bask in the memory of the moment once it was over. They talked about it and then they decided to act and they did! What’s more, they didn’t let any grass grow under their feet. So, I identify with the shepherds as “doers”! Luke describes their action this way (verse 16):
And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.
I like the way The Message paraphrase describes it:
They left, running, and found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in a manger.
They came to Christ in a hurry! These action oriented people got to meet the main characters in the story as well as their promised redeemer. Can you imagine the opportunity that they had been given and the strength of purpose they demonstrated in taking advantage of it and the reward of seeing Jesus in that manger? Wow!
Lastly, I want to identify with the shepherds because, having seen the glory of God declared to them and in person in the manger, they didn’t just trudge back to their flocks and settle in for the rest of the night. Luke describes the closing scene this way: (verse 17)
And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
Once again, The Message paraphrase describes it in more modern terms:
Seeing is believing. They told everyone they met what the angels had said about this child. All who heard the sheepherders were impressed.
One of the greatest opportunities and responsibilities we have as people who have heard the message of the Gospel is to tell others about it. The shepherds told others. I like the word “Abroad” that Luke uses. They told a lot of people all around them. I identify with the shepherds as witnesses for Jesus Christ.
So, who would I have liked to have been in the Christmas story? I would have liked to be a hard-working, alert, shepherd. When he was confronted with the glory and magnificence of the Christmas story, he didn’t just keep it for himself but went out joyously proclaiming the good news of God’s gift to mankind.
How about you? Have you experienced God’s love? And if you have, have you shared it with someone else? This Christmas season would be a great time to do just that!
(Send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit me on Facebook or Linked In and tell me who, in the Christmas story you identify with.)