by: Marty Paluch
What’s the best news you ever heard? “This is the IRS calling, it looks like we DID make the mistake and you have a significant refund due…” “There’s no more sign of cancer anywhere”, “honey, my mom just called, she’s coming to stay with us!” Okay, two out of three is not so bad. Whether it’s the relief of a burden lifted or the excitement of a dream fulfilled or prayers answered, news of this sort can’t help but result in a joy beyond words.
The angel announcing Jesus’ birth to the shepherds was delivering that kind of news. Why to shepherds? The shepherds visited by the angel were temple shepherds, priests selected to protect the unblemished sheep used for sacrifices foreshadowing Jesus’ sacrifice on the altar of the cross.
As shepherd-priests, these men were well-educated theologians, descended from Moses’ brother, Aaron, through Jacob’s son Levi to serve in the temple or synagogue. They were not given land when the Israelites reclaimed the Promised Land. The privilege of serving God in their unique way was their inheritance. Their breadth of knowledge would certainly include a comprehensive understanding of the messianic prophecies. These men absolutely understood the significance of the angel’s message.
It’s more than interesting to see God’s ‘Messiah reveal’ witnessed first by shepherd-priests. Their faithfulness in service to God is rewarded with not only the best news in the cosmos but also conducted in glorious fashion! An exclusive supernatural angelic appearance followed by the best back up choir ev-er! It’s not unusual for Salem’s stellar praise team to trigger worship goose bumps for me. How much more for the shepherds to hear from an angel chorus of thousands –live and in person!
The shepherds’ joy is a template for us. It’s more than a happy dance joy, it’s a happy dance and a ‘let’s run to that stable’ joy. Their lives had been fulfilled. The anticipation of a thousand generations had come to pass. After a lifetime of trusting promises and prophecies, they were about to see what a Savior of the world looked like.
How could anyone contain that joy? Let’s assume Joseph let them admire Jesus for a bit and then shooed them out so mother and child could get some rest (and get rid of that sheep smell). Their joy carried them to town where they likely bought a round of sno-cones for everyone so they could tell their story and their position as priests supplied legitimacy to their fantastic news.
Admittedly, even the best news can lose some luster when we hear it over and over. Perhaps the shepherds were a little less than enthusiastic when their children asked to hear the angel story for the fifteenth time that day. But, perhaps not. I’d like to think they drew a deep breath and let the memory of the best night of their life rekindle their joy as they gathered their little ones and took them back to a quiet field just outside of Bethlehem, “…After the angels went away, we ran with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger…”
So, how do we keep our shepherd joy vibrant? We start by returning to the manger again and again to marvel at the baby Jesus in joyful wonder. We deepen it with stories of Jesus healing the sick, befriending the unlikable and encouraging the discouraged. And we reveal the source of our joy as we tell how Jesus took our punishment on the cross and was raised to life again on Easter because our God is one of unending mercy and grace.
We live differently because we rest in a joy that offers assurance nothing in this life can rewrite the story of salvation through Jesus. The essence of the Christ follower’s life is to share and live out a joy beyond words.
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. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Luke 2:11
And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them…and the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them. Luke 2:17-20