"In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night. And the angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terribly frightened. But the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.' " Luke 2:8-12
A contemporary country comedian has made a career out of three little words, "Here's Your Sign!" The shepherds outside of Bethlehem received a similar announcement from the angel of the Lord. Their fear of the messenger was their first obstacle to receiving the message from God. This is a common reaction recorded in all the Scripture accounts I have read about angels delivering their messages. I sometimes think that "FEAR NOT" is the first statement angels are taught to memorize in flight academy. They use it every time they come face to face with a fear stricken recipient of a message from God.
This was not the first time God had sent for a shepherd to be a part of what He was doing in Bethlehem. The angels found the shepherds carrying out a time honored occupation, outside of the city of Bethlehem. These fields were the same ones where David had served his father Jesse as a shepherd boy. God sent Samuel to Bethlehem to find the next king He had chosen to replace Saul. Jesse presented seven of his sons to Samuel, but he said to Jesse, "The Lord has not chosen these." Samuel asked, "Are these all the children?" Jesse reported, "There remains yet the youngest and behold, he is tending the sheep." Samuel commanded, "Send and bring him here." When David was brought before him, the residents witnessed David being anointed by Samuel to become God's choice for the next King of Israel. (I Samuel 16:9-11)
Bethlehem had a great history. As the birthplace of a great king, the City of David held a place of prominence among the people of Israel. However significant that historical fact may have been to them, not much had happened there lately. Their eyes were fixed on their past, but God was up to something new.
What is the significance of the shepherds receiving an angelic birth announcement? Perhaps they were chosen because sheep require a shepherd, night or day. They were faithfully carrying out their responsibilities while others slept. They were the tip of the spear in the fight for protection of their flocks. We know that King David never forgot his shepherd boy roots, and King Jesus was to be called The Good Shepherd. The fact is they were chosen to receive a message of hope in the middle of the dark of night. Isn't it just like God to be all about sending a beam of light into the darkness to give His people a glimpse of His glory. God must love the little people of this world. He made so many of them.
"This will be a sign for you." The shepherds were given a sign to point them to Jesus. The Christmas season serves a similar purpose today. The trick is to make sure the sign doesn't become a substitute for the real thing. My Dad, Don Miller, often shares his personal proverb, "Never let the system overshadow the Savior."
In June of 1987, my family was visiting Arizona's spectacular Grand Canyon. We were standing on the rim admiring the view when I heard the screech of tires and brakes. A family from New York had almost rammed their car into the sign. The father jumped out of the vehicle swearing at his wife and kids to get over next to the "Welcome to the Grand Canyon" sign for a picture. He took a snapshot, and swore at them to get back into the car. They drove off in a cloud of dust and left a vapor trail of disbelief on the faces of everyone who witnessed the scene. The had stopped at the sign, and missed the wonder of God's creation. They could tell their friends they had been to the canyon, but they had never really experienced the beauty of it. Truth really is stranger than fiction.
I have thought about that Grand Canyon scene many times over the past 22 years. God help us to have the discernment to know when we are settling for a snapshot of a sign, when God wants to unfold the majestic landscape of His grace. Christmas is a wonderful time of the year to put the system on pause and reflect on the love God has for you personally. I know you believe in God, but this is a time to remind yourself that God believes in you. His message to the shepherds was meant for you too. "There has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord."
Can I get a witness?