Thoughts on the Shepherds

Curt Dale

I have tried to concentrate on the meaning of the Nativity and the Birth of Christ. As I read the account in Luke, I am struck by the importance the lowly shepherds hold in those events. I find it significant that the angel and a multitude of heavenly host came to visit them as they worked the night through. If I read correctly, it scared them very badly. I'm sure seeing such a sight in the sky was overwhelming. Think of how people often react to even a very bright meteor. This manifestation didn't happen to anyone else. "…the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shown round about them." They had an exclusive event. Even the Wise Men only saw a new star that fulfilled prophesy, and they set out on their long journey to eventually find the Christ Child. No angel said to them, "Hey, there's the star you've been watching for." Their travels were great evidences of faith. But the shepherds were right in the immediate vicinity and hastened to see the wonder that was taking place. The Heavenly manifestation was undoubtedly more profound than anything they had ever seen, more amazing than virtually anything man had ever seen on Earth before. But they had to decide to go see if what they'd just been told was true. They decided the Lord had made it known to them. I think such a sight would cause me to question my own sanity, but they figured it out. They were ordered to go see the Savior. When it says, "And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger…." Note that "ye shall" is used twice. "Shall" is recognized as a direction that is unavoidable. They had to go find the babe. But, I wonder if they even felt welcome to go. Some grand things were happening in the heavens. They decided they were to do it and hastened to get there. It seems that actually seeing the Babe in the manger gave them the complete picture.

Now, it is what they did after they saw Jesus in the manger that is even more profound for me. "They made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child." I can visualize them running through the streets of Bethlehem, telling of this wondrous thing. I don't know if it was still in the middle of the night or in the morning. The reaction of Mary was most interesting. She "kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart." It must have been amazing thing for her to hear from the shepherds that this great announcement was made from the heavens to them out in the field that very night. Here she was, many miles from home with her new baby lying in a manger with just her husband who had not fathered the child. She knew she'd been visited by angels, and knew her baby was the Messiah. But what a joy it must have been for shepherds she didn't even know, coming to see her baby and testifying to her that they had been told "For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger." Joseph was there when they came, and he must have heard what they said. What justification the message brought by these shepherds must have been to both of them, and I'm thinking that's why "Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart." Precious information from a very unexpected source.

Actually, I don't know where the shepherds "returned" to, but they were returning from "abroad." It says they "returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them." I have to suppose that this wasn't "returning" to the field, but returning to the place of the manger, whether it was in a stable, cave, or barn. But they were still excited because they "returned glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them." I'm supposing that, because the shepherds had seen the whole thing play out. We don't know how many there were, but they were the witnesses. They were reviewing exactly what they'd seen, exactly what they had heard and exactly what they had been told." What a sermon, what a testimony they had. I wonder how long they continued to be what I'll call the first lay missionaries to testify of the coming of Jesus Christ. It would still be years before John the Baptist entered his ministry. He was still a newborn baby himself when these shepherds were telling of the Christ Child in the environs of Bethlehem.

So often we see nativities that have only the Wise Men in them. In actuality, they didn't arrive until much later. We don't know if sheep, cows, donkeys, or other livestock were there. Some say Jesus was a young lad before the Magi even arrived to find him. But the shepherds were right on the spot, establishing for all mankind and all time that this great event took place. This was not trumpeted to the world, or even to the whole town of Bethlehem, but to these shepherds abiding in the field. They were not theologians. They knew it was a "thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known to" them. Unquestionably, the most important message ever communicated from Heavenly Father to man, the "good tidings of great joy," was revealed to shepherds in the field and them alone. Without their eyewitness account of what had been told them, the story would be very incomplete. The shepherds saw it all. They weren't relying on lifelong study of prophecy. They did what they were supposed to do, "they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. Their recollection had to be exact. Luke was not there to record it. What these shepherds told abroad is the fulfillment of prophecy of the ages, what Luke wrote down.

The Wise Men worshipped the Christ Child, but they didn't get to say anything about finding and meeting Jesus while in the broad vicinity of Jesus birth, protecting Him from being killed. God warned them in a dream that they should return by a different route. So, in my nativity scenes, I want the shepherds to always have a prominent place.

I do want you to know that my Testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ grows constantly and steadily. The evidences of His power and love are undeniable. I have been enjoying working in the Holy Temple so much in the past year. That has been a great experience for Pat and myself.

© Colonel Curtis D. Dale, PhD USAF (Ret), DECEMBER 2010

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