Joy to the world! The Lord has come!
Today’s reading tells the story of the birth of Jesus. As you read it, let me ask you a question. Why do you think the Christmas story involves shepherds? Every nativity scene shows them there at Mary and Joseph’s side, looking with wonder at the baby in the manger. Why shepherds?
The shepherd’s job was to tend the sheep that would be sacrificed to atone for the sins of the people. Yet because of what their work sometimes required, shepherds were ceremonially unclean people, and thus unable to keep the ceremonial law themselves. In a ceremonial world (and make no mistake, ours is a ceremonial world), you end up with insiders and outsiders. The shepherd’s work made them outsiders to the very system they served. This was part of the price they paid to do their jobs well.
When the angel appeared outside of Bethlehem to these marginalized herders, what did he say? He told them the Savior, Christ the Lord, had been born. But then the angel used one more expression which brought overwhelming clarity to the moment. The angel told the shepherds that Christ the Lord had been born “for you” (Luke 2:11). The divine Savior and Messiah had been born for the unclean. The shepherds were not outsiders to this gift. They were the recipients of it.
But it doesn’t end there.
What happens next shows the artistry of God. The angel gives the shepherds a sign that will prove his claim: the Savior can be found where the young lambs are kept (v. 12). Think about that for a minute. The Savior was born into the world of the lowest of the low—into their domain. He was not born in a palace or a temple, but where the lambs that were sacrificed for the atonement of the people of God were kept while they waited.
Though we may struggle to grasp the weight of this season, the angels themselves recognize the magnitude of the moment. Luke tells us one angel came to announce Jesus’ birth, but it was like there were a million more hiding behind some celestial curtain in the sky over Bethlehem. Once they heard, “Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (v. 11), they all rushed in singing, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people he favors!” (v. 14).
Though the shepherds were just beginning to process the news, the angels couldn’t contain their joy. If we’re wise, we’ll assume the angels’ response fits the announcement. This is the message of Christmas: there are no outsiders to God’s mercy and grace. Christ was born to reconcile us, by faith, to our Creator. Let earth receive her King, and let every heart prepare Him room!
Written by Russ Ramsey
A Prayer for The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Day
Almighty God, you have given your only begotten Son to take our nature upon Him, and to be born this day of a pure virgin: Grant that we, who have been born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit; through our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the same Spirit be honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.