What the shepherds actually saw…

“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.” (Luke 2:8-9 KJV)

Okay, we all like to talk about how neat it must have been to see what the shepherds must have seen in the fields that evening. The conversation spills into how humble the beginnings must have been for the greatness of God to have been born in a stable; and not just a stable, but a manger! Yet, I think all too often the conversation moves on long before anyone reaches a clearer vision of what was seen that night. There are a few mysteries that are rarely even considered. Let us walk through a few of these.

The first one is the most obvious. How do you get a couple that has just been shunned by family because of a questionable pregnancy from their existing home town to a prophesied birth place? At least part of that journey they will be traveling alone. No visible escort or police protection from thieves and other undesirables along the way. How do you get them to focus on a specific destination like Bethlehem and not just somewhere close within that area? How do you motivate them to go now despite the approaching arrival of a newborn? Could God actually use a decree for a new tax to cloak the timing and certainty of the destination of His Son? Would that give Joseph the needed reason for traveling, traveling there, and traveling right now?

The next is also interesting. Why do the shepherds get to see these angels? Angels are sent directly to Joshua, Daniel, and most recently Zacharias. Yet the way the appearance of these angels is worded in Luke 2 there is no indication that the angels were sent directly or specifically to these shepherds. It is more of a ‘they were in the right place at the right time’ kind of thing. There is something else about this encounter… It is after the first angel gives them the news that they see a whole multitude of angels. What are all the other angels there for? Were the shepherds the lucky recipients of the finest choir to ever prepare a performance? No doubt it was well worth seeing, but I imagine it was more the song of victorious soldiers that just safely delivered “the package”. Was this the unseen military escort that just walked Joseph, Mary, Jesus, and the donkey all the way from their home to here? To hear the victory song of a mighty angelic army would grab your attention like nothing else. It would also explain the bit about “peace” and “goodwill”. If the army was anything like the one Joshua saw, my first curiosity would also be, are you for us or for our enemies? Is this the peace that follows victory or the song of destruction yet to come? That would single handedly explain their immediate haste to get into town to see what was going on.

Speaking of getting into town… How do you communicate to shepherds an exact address and confirm a prophesy in just a few short simple words to an in town destination that likely does not have an address painted on every mailbox? Probably does not even have a “you are here” sticker on the town map. They are shepherds. They know one thing really well. Sheep. What do you wrap lambs in? Swaddling clothes. And not just any lambs, but commonly the sacrificial lambs to prevent injury. “Swaddling clothes” and “manger” were all they needed to know to know exactly where to go.

There is humility in such a humble place of birth. Yet, God’s message is most easily recognized by the humblest of men and women. The proud may look at an event and come to see the humility of it, but the humble see an event and are also able to see everything surrounding the event which made it possible. By revealing a little of what was going on to those nearby shepherds, the angels effectively gave the event a historically verifiable date and time stamp, opened the eyes of those who where looking, and were able to proclaim openly the awe and wonder of what God was doing. It is no wonder why the shepherds would then return “glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen”. Notice, not “heard about”, but “heard and seen” as one who was there first hand.

If the angelic military escort was making sure Joseph, Mary, and Jesus made it to a specific location at a specific time, who else may they have been defending these three from? Revelation 12 reads an awful lot like a spiritual account of the Christmas story. The flood the dragon spews forth (verse 15) is very like the rush of soldiers Herod sent to kill every boy 2 years old and younger. Why was that flood of destruction not sent on day one? Do you think that angelic army was more than physical protection? It is not until men of stature show up and point out the star that Herod starts getting curious and calls out the priests for more information. Do you think there may have been advantages to not coming into town on a litter with servants in front of them and slaves behind them announcing the arrival of God’s Son?

So often we see situations that seem as fragile as a man, a woman in labor, and a donkey walking along their way to a town to be registered for yet another tax hike. We wonder how any of a million possible situations that could have come along to disrupt the events which were foretold so long ago, and never see the spiritual armies that God has in place to escort events to exactly when and where He has a plan for them to take place. Notice that before the Word was made flesh that there is not the will of man but of God (see John 1:13, 14). Determine to seek His will today.

“For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.” (2 Peter 1:21 KJV)

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