Sermon for Christmas Day, Wednesday December 25th, 2019
The Lessons: Isaiah 62:6-12; Psalm 97; Titus 3:4-7; Luke 2:8-20
The Text: Luke 2:8-20
The Topic: Why did the angels appear to shepherds, rather than to priests or rulers?
Why did the angels tell the good news of Jesus’ birth to such unimportant people as shepherds? What purpose did God have in mind by choosing to reveal such a significant message to humble people?
if the angels had spoken directly to King Herod, it is clear that even if the angels had temporarily terrified him, he would have murdered the Christ child later, since he murdered all the young children he could find, after the Magi who had told him about the birth of the King of the Jews and then had visited Jesus to worship him, had departed secretly to their own land. This King Herod was so jealous of others usurping his throne that he tried to eliminate everyone whom he saw as a threat to his rule. Not to kings clinging to their power did the angels give this glorious good news, but to shepherds.
Why might the angels not have appeared to priests in the temple? One already had appeared to an elderly priest named Zechariah, prophesying that his wife would bear a son whom they were to name John, and Zechariah had not believed at first. Yet when he did believe, his ability to speak was suddenly and miraculously restored.
The reason for God’s choice of shepherds may be evident in the Magnificat, in which the Blessed Virgin Mary expresses her joy in God her Savior for considering her low estate and doing great things for her (Luke 1:49) by giving her the grace of bearing God’s Son. One significant theme that is evident in the Magnificat is the theme of divine reversal – God humbles some by putting them down from their high status and exalts others of low status to high positions in his kingdom. In a wonderful way, then, God takes these shepherds and gives them a memorable place in the Gospel record of Jesus’ birth.
THE SHEPHERDS IN THE FIELDS – LUKE 2:8-20
But there is another profound reason for God’s choice of shepherds which should not escape our attention, and it can be deduced from the opening statement of our Gospel Lesson, “And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:8). They were living outdoors, in the fields, and they were guarding their flocks, which might have been the flocks of sheep allocated for sacrifice in the temple. They were staying awake and watching over their flocks to keep them safe from predators and thieves. The Greek text indicates they were keeping the watches of the night. The night was divided into four periods from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., and these were called watches (Lat. vigiliae). To those shepherds, then, who were keeping watch, an angel of the Lord appeared. Now those shepherds were in a frame of mind to keep watch. They did not have anything modern like cell-phones to keep them from doing their duty of keeping watch, nor were they sleeping, and the angel woke them up. Their minds being aware of their surroundings and watchful in case any animal or person was trying to steal their sheep, they were all the more frightened by the angel’s sudden appearance, and the glory of the Lord shining around them (Luke 2:9).
The Gospel news came to those who were keeping watch, and this is such a necessary state of mind that the Lord Jesus himself urges us to practice it, saying:
Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.
(Luke 21:36, KJV)
Also in the Gospels, the Lord warns us:
Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come.
(Matthew 24:42, KJV)
THE ANGEL’S GOOD NEWS AND THE ANGELS’ SONGS OF PRAISE
What the shepherds were not on the watch for, suddenly appeared: an angel and the glory of the Lord shining around them (Luke 2:9). Though they were stricken with fear, the angel reassures them, telling them the good news which brings great joy, the good news of the birth today of a savior, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David (Luke 2:11). The angel gives them a sign of the truth of this – that the baby would be wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. Now a manger was such an unusual place for a child to be lying that it would be a sign to them that the angel had spoken the truth.
But the shepherds were not just given this sign, but they received another sign of the importance of Jesus’ birth. The heavenly armies of angels suddenly appeared, singing the praises of God, and declaring peace on earth and good will among men (Luke 8:14).
THE SHEPHERDS’ ACTIONS
After the angels depart, there are no shepherds remarking, “I don’t know if I can believe all this? How about you?” The angels didn’t appear to skeptics or philosophers, but to shepherds, who decided immediately to go to Bethlehem and see what the Lord had revealed to them. When they had found Mary and Joseph, and the infant Christ lying in a manger, they told them and everyone they encountered, the words of the angel concerning the child (Luke 2:17). All who heard this news, wondered at these things, while St. Mary pondered them in her heart (Luke 2:18-19). The shepherd returned to their sheep in the fields, but they were glorifying and praising God for all the things they had both heard and seen that night (Luke 2:20).
An answer to why the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ’s birth was revealed to shepherds must surely include not only the fact that they were keeping watch, but that their humble station in life predisposed them to believe with gratitude the word of the Lord, and to enter with the angels into the worship and praise of God for the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Now what is your response to the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ’s birth in this world? Will you share this good news with others, as the shepherds did, and will you praise and worship God all the more for this good news, as the shepherds did?