|Series Theme: Meditations on People who met Jesus|
Part 1 : Meeting the Baby
Part 2: John & Disciples
Part 3 : Needy Men
Part 4: Needy Women
Part 5 : Resistance
Meditation No. 1
Meditation Title: The Shepherds
Lk 2:16-18 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.
Sometimes these meditations take on fairly deep theological tones. In this series that is not our intention. It is simply to look at some of the people who encountered Jesus and wonder what they felt in all that happened. I have been reading and studying the Bible for over forty years but the more I read, the more I realise how much is missing. God has given us sufficient upon which to build faith, but time and time again I am left wondering. We are usually given only sketches of what went on. I think I understand a little of what the closing verses of John's Gospel mean where we find: “Jesus did many other things as well. If every one of them were written down, I suppose that even the whole world would not have room for the books that would be written.” (Jn 21:25). I‘ve pondered that if even the things that were written, were written in more detail, our Bibles would be ten times thicker than they are. Anyway, enough introduction, let's start looking at the first people outside of the family, who met Jesus – the shepherds.
Shepherds, I am told, in those days would have been outcasts. They were men who lived out on the hillsides looking after their sheep, protecting them against predators and thieves. They rarely came down from the hillsides where their sheep were, and they certainly didn't have time to be religious and attend religious festivals. Keeping sheep, whether for food, for wool or for sacrifices, was a big industry. In that sense they were important, but otherwise they were outsiders.
So, supposing you were a shepherd, a rough outcast from society, and you are minding your own business one evening around the fire (perhaps – it's not said) when suddenly an angel turns up. Now often in Scripture when angels arrive they appear as ordinary human figures and there is even doubt as to who they are – but not on this occasion! This one is coming with effect: “An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.” (Lk 2:9) God really does know how to make an impression when He wants. There is going to be no question about this encounter when they come to talk about it later. They may not be religious and probably wouldn't have cared too much about the religious establishment, and although they might have been taught as children in the synagogue about Israel 's history and angels and such like, for them this was a hard, cold world where such things didn't happen – until now!
Now it does happen and now there is no room for doubt, and so now they are scared silly! But the angel has a message – the Messiah or Christ has come and he's down there in the town, lying in a manger. Mangers they knew about – feeding troughs for animals, OK. Now of course we don't know what the shepherds thought at this point because we aren't told, but I think they could have been forgiven if they looked on and thought, “This angel has come to the wrong place. Whatever is he doing telling US about the Messiah? We're not religious. In fact we really don't care about deliverance from the Romans if we're honest about it, because they don't have much impact on us, so what is he doing telling us this?”
But that's not all that happens. Now, recently in our Sunday morning meeting, we found the Spirit coming again and again with waves of singing in the Spirit and it was most beautiful. Now if that was beautiful, how much more must have been a “a great company of the heavenly host” (Lk 2:13) singing? Whatever doubts they had must, I suspect, have been melted away by the beauty and wonder of this incredible experience. They are just left with a “Let's go!” response when the sky goes dark and silent again. This is how they come to meet Jesus.
No, we aren't told anything about what they felt or said, when they came and saw the little baby; we're only told what they did. They went out and they “spread the word” (Lk 2:17 ). The angelic preparation, and then the sight of the little baby, left no other response; it was automatic, they just went and told everyone they knew what had happened – and then they went back to their sheep: “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” (Lk 2;20) Suddenly these outcasts were believers! They had had a touch of heaven and now they were believers and they praised God. When was the last time such words were found on their lips? Perhaps never before! We're not even told how they actually found Jesus, but find him they did. Did they have any real ideas about who he was and what he had come to do? Almost certainly not!
They may have had some vague memories of some long distant ‘Sunday school class' but all they know was that they had met an angel, and they had been sung to by the most wonderful choir to ever appear on earth – and they had seen the baby spoken about. The next time they see Him they will probably be old men. In fact by the time Jesus comes on the scene publicly, some of these men may have died, i.e. they will never see him again. But they have seen a baby that heaven has just heralded. They, the outcasts, have been chosen by God to be the first outsiders to see him. This is a story that will be told for many a long year. Why did God include a bunch of outsiders in the nativity story? Perhaps just to make a point that He loves outsiders! This baby has come for outsiders!