And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
Where were you the first time you remember hearing about Jesus? Or if you can’t remember a “first time,” what are some early memories you have of encounters with the God who came to earth? And just as important: how and where and in whom have you seen Jesus these last few weeks, days, and even hours?
The shepherds were just minding their own business, really. They were “keeping watch over their flocks at night.” That phrasing has become virtually poetic to us now, so tied is it to this beautiful story. It’s merely a preamble to the glory of the angels and of the Lord, a glory improbably made manifest in a “baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
But this is also just like saying, “They were at work when God’s glory found them.” Or, “They were standing at the sink washing dishes when the Lord’s invitation came.” Or, “They were fixing a chain on a bicycle when Christ came to them.” Or, “They were practicing their caregiving role when they caught a sudden glimpse of God’s great love.”
No matter how well saturated we are with Scripture, no matter how solid our Christology, no matter how long we’ve been following Jesus, we simply do not know all the times and places where Christ is going to meet us. Chances are he will come to us while we’re in the middle of something else.
Encounters with the living God can be intense. But just as Luke is keen to point out Mary’s obedience to a seemingly bizarre call, he is eager to show us the willingness of the shepherds to drop their staffs (and leave their sheep momentarily unattended? or bring them along?) to “go… and see this thing that has happened,” which God told them about.
Christ has come to earth! He came in the form of a servant, taking on human likeness. Christ will come again! He will come in a glory that will surpass even that of the “great company of the heavenly host.” Christ comes to us! He comes and visits us each day in myriad ways, big and small, obvious and subtle, extraordinary and mundane.
Like these shepherds who were surely caught off guard by the interruption, may we have the willingness to see Christ whenever and however he comes to us. And may we hasten to the places where he is today, running to his feet, bowing down, and worshiping him.
The above is adapted from an Advent reflection I wrote as part of a devotional our church’s Deacons prepared for our congregation this Advent.