Luke 2:8-14 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 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. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
When contemplating this passage, I am struck not only by what happens, but by what doesn’t happen.
It’s a quiet evening. The shepherds are doing what they’ve done all their adult lives: tending their flocks. Nothing distinguishes this night from any other. Several are probably gathered in one spot, resting or eating, while others are alert for predators or other threats.
Without warning, there is a stranger in their midst, and so much light that it’s like the brightest midday sun. They’re scared, and some probably raise their staves to defend the flock. The first words of this stranger have to be, “Fear not,” followed by a quick statement that this is good news.
Barely has this being finished speaking, than there is suddenly a whole host all around. The shepherds were certainly even more terrified than they were before, despite the calming words. The only thing like this multitude which they might have experienced would have been the Roman army – and they are probably thinking this has got to be an army of some sort.
While this is happening, however, nothing is mentioned about the sheep. If they’d scattered in terror, it would have forced the shepherds to round them up before they could do anything else. I don’t think they did. I see the sheep there, wiser for once than their human masters in the presence of this heavenly emissary, calmly continuing to graze or lifting their heads to watch the heavenly host proclaim God’s glory.
Even the shepherds got it right, in the end.
Luke 2:15-20 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
This year, I wish to you the wisdom of the sheep, the calm understanding that all is well, that God in heaven sees you and knows you, and – like the sheep – all you need do is trust Him and echo the heavenly messengers: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”