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The Shepherds’ Response

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With time on their hands, hunger in their bellies, and wind slicing through their cloaks, the shepherds hunker down for another night in the fields. A night like countless others.

The sheep are quiet. They don’t know their future is ceremonial slaughter.

What occupies the shepherds’ thoughts in the silent darkness? They try to not worry about their barely-getting-by existence. Their constant danger from wild animals and marauding thieves. Their shunned status in society.

What buoys their spirits? Those that know some of David’s Psalms share this around the campfire:
“I sought the LORD, and he answered me; he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame.”

Some shepherds snigger. Fear and shame are constant companions. What would it be like to live without either?

In answer, the sky suddenly explodes with light and sound. The shepherds’ terror turns to awe as they hear a voice say, “Fear not.” It delivers an astounding announcement. Unnatural brilliance banishes the night. Heavenly praise erupts in every direction. Joy wraps the shepherds like a thermal blanket.

And their lives change forever.

They drop everything. Literally. Knapsacks flung to the ground. Flocks left unattended.

Feet fly, unhindered—following the narrowing brilliant beam that points the way to the infant Jesus.

Luke intentionally uses the word speudó to describe the shepherds’ actions. Translated “hasten” (Luke 2:16), it doesn’t quite do the scene justice. Speudó is an intense version of our English word “speed.”

But speudó also means “earnestly desire.” The shepherds modeled both.

Actions mirrored priorities. Seeing Jesus became more important to the shepherds than anything else in their lives.

The shepherds’ response poured from their hearts.

They gave what they had. Gratitude. Adoration. Worship. What God desires most.

So earnest was their desire to see the Christ Child and worship Him that they risked their livelihood and reputation to go.

They may have lost both.

In Jesus’s day, shepherding was thankless, hard work that left shepherds ceremonially unclean. Religious leaders officially branded shepherds as “sinners” regardless of how they lived their lives. Governmental authorities marginalized shepherds, denying them all civil rights. Shepherding was last-ditch employment when no other job could be found. Finally, as the lowest caste of society, shepherds were stereotyped as untrustworthy.

Yet that untrustworthy lot had just been entrusted with the greatest message of all time: the Messiah has come!

Luke 2 records that, after the shepherds gazed on God Incarnate, they immediately started telling others about it (vs 17). Everyone who heard the shepherds’ news was so amazed—literally, “astonished out of their senses”—that they in turn started speculating about it (vs 18).

The angel’s message transformed dirty shepherds into dedicated disciples. For no reason other than they made Jesus their top priority. Their only priority.

Did the shepherds return to their isolated posts?

Sheep need a shepherd. Sheep wander, have little common sense, and can’t care for themselves. But shepherds also need sheep. Lose your sheep, lose your assets (or your employer’s). You’re on the hook for the cost, possibly hunted as a criminal, and most certainly out of a shepherding job for good.

Whether they picked up their shepherds’ crooks again or not didn’t matter.

They knew what they had heard and seen. When they fixed their eyes on Jesus, their fear and shame melted in the radiance of God’s truth. No station in life could diminish that.

That’s the point we need to reach. Regardless of how discouraged, ill-equipped, or marginalized we feel, regardless of present losses or future uncertainties, we need to settle in our minds—once and for all—that nothing is more important than following Jesus.

God’s plans were much bigger than the shepherds could have comprehended.

The angel made its broadcast to outcasts. But Jesus elevated shepherding to a holy, eternal status: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

Christ rocked society by identifying Himself as our shepherd. The Great Shepherd (Hebrews 13:20). The Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4). How ironic (and just like God) that the most apt illustration of Christ’s tender love and guiding care would come from that era’s most despised and shamed job description! In God’s infinite wisdom, He delivered His message first to those who would identify most with the words Christ would use to describe His purpose—and His ultimate sacrifice.

Stigmatized blue-collar workers made Christ their only priority. Risked everything for one moment with Him because they were transformed by a single message: God’s surpassing greatness and faithfulness in sending Christ to earth. That knowledge was enough.

It’s enough for us, too—if we embrace it.

What in our lives holds such a high priority that we would willingly set aside (or lose) everything for it? Is the chance to be with Jesus that important to us? Those questions shouldn’t foster fear, but anticipation. When God sets something of ours aside, He sets the stage to set us apart for His greater purposes.

Just like He did the shepherds.

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