Shepherds and Angels

An embellished but possible perspective of the Messiah’s birth based on Luke 2:8-20

The fields outside of Bethlehem are desolate; full of rocks and crags, serpents, and lions. These fields are the shepherd’s fields of the Judean wilderness. Historically, this is a brutal country occupied by the meager and lowly… except one.

Shepherds keep watch over their flocks by night. Literally “watching watches.” Rhythms of watchful care and then short napping for a time. When watching, alert eyes are open scanning the periphery for intruders. Thieves, wolves, lions, and snakes that might threaten the flock bedded down for the night.

In the distance, looming in front of a blazing moon, one mountain extends higher than the rest. This is the mountain of a prideful king who named himself “the great.”  The lowly shepherd spits in the direction of Herod’s mountain as he views flickering lights atop each of the 4 towers protruding from the 7-story palace with it’s own water system and swimming pool. The shepherd whispers to himself, “Herod thinks he is a god.” “He doesn’t understand us!” “For once, we should have a shepherd for a king.” A hypothetical conversation ensued among the youthful protectors of the sheep. “What if a shepherd became king?”

This was just an ordinary night in the shadow of a self-made dignitary, caring for sheep, passing the time until the sun, and sleeping on the rocky desert floor.

Suddenly, “And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

14    “Glory to God in the highest,

and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”[1]

Pealing their fearful faces out of the dirt the shepherds were amazed. They had seen the manifest glory of God and were terrified. The angel preached the good news to them, of the Anointed One, the One the prophecy spoke of, born in Bethlehem. The angel said they would find him in a trough, wrapped in blankets. Then, with their own ears they heard a “multitude” (“plethos” where we get our word “plethora”) of heavenly host praising God and saying, “

Glory …

To God in the Highest

Peace…

Among those with whom he is pleased.

A contemplative young shepherd thought for a moment, “Why would He choose us?” They hurried to Bethlehem and just as the angel said; they found the baby in a shepherds cave, lying in a trough. The setting was familiar to the shepherds. They used caves like this all of the time as a place of refuge for the sheep. It wasn’t much but it was shelter. The smell of dung and a smoldering fire created an aroma familiar to the humble shepherds but too lowly for the Messiah.

Staring into the eyes of the newborn baby, the story became clear for the shepherds. This was the One of whom Isaiah prophesied.  “14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.[2]

A young shepherdess thought to herself, “Is it true that the Holy One of Israel has been born in a shepherds cave just a short walking distance from Herod’s desert palace?” Is it possible that “Immanuel, God with us” has first revealed himself to us, a band of common, youthful, shepherds?” Has the Great King really appeared in such impoverished circumstances?”

Zeal began to well up inside of the shepherds!  “This is our promised King!” This is our prophesied Messiah” “This is the one who understands us” “This is the one who can bring shalom.” “He was and is everything that had been told to them.

17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. [3]

Herod, the great, became, Herod, the paranoid murder. He was not pleased.

Years later these same shepherds, now grown with children and grandchildren of their own, went up to Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah, John 10:22). A conversation ensued about the night the angels announced the birth of the Messiah to them while they watched over their sheep. The laughed as they remembered the joy of that night and the reactions of people as they told them about Jesus, the real King, born in a manger. Herod the great had long since passed; dying paranoid and hated. Herod’s son now governed Judea with the force of Rome standing on his neck. A false peace called the Pax Romana was legislated. The people of God, though living semi- peaceful lives, were raging internally to be free from Rome.

An old shepherd whispered to the other, “We need a shepherd for a King.” One that can lead us, provide for us, protect us, and give us real peace.”

As they were walking they passed a large crowd.  Pushing their way through to get a closer look, they found the Rabbi many were speaking about. He spoke like no other. He worked miracles. He seemed to be of God. The old shepherds wondered if this man was the one they met as an infant that night so long ago.

As the listened they heard him say, “14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” [4]

The old shepherd leaned into the other with a twinkle in his failing eyes. It’s Him, the One the angel told us about, the one from Bethlehem, Jesus Christ, the Lord, God with us. A shepherd has become King.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Lk 2:9–14). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Is 7:14). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Lk 2:17–20). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2001). (Jn 10:14–18). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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