December 17 – Luke 2:8-21


Heads up: a lot of groups take the weeks around Christmas and New Year’s off, and I’d encourage you to do this, both because so many people travel and because y’all could use the break in a busy season. For proper planning, go ahead and think through how you’d like to stay in touch over the holidays, cause even something as simple as a “Merry Christmas!” text is a good reminder of what unites us in community

This is our third of four weeks looking at the Nativity, the unassuming community of people who attended Jesus’s birth. In our passage this week, glorious light pierces the darkness, people are startled out of their sleep, and the most exalted beings in all of creation proclaim the best message that has ever been uttered to the lowliest members of society. Shepherds and animals and angels—these are the ones present to the birth of Jesus. The Messiah upends all of our expectations, and he invites the humble to be with him and see the world remade.

Read Luke 2:1-7 and you’ll have the classic story of Jesus being born in Bethlehem, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laying in a manger. Let us all keep striving to evict the quant Christmas images we’ve picked up from greeting cards and cheesy movies—imagine if you will what it would be like to give birth in a barn. Andrew Peterson’s song, “Labor of Love,” captures this well, if you want to go have a listen. There’s no midwife around, Joseph was likely incompetent (as most men are when a baby is being born), and this was Mary’s first experience giving birth. Surely the Lord’s grace brought them through it, but nevertheless, this was no picture perfect moment.

This same thing was true for the shepherds. Shepherds occupied an incredibly low position in society; even though their profession took skill and expertise, they were looked down upon. A good modern corollary for us might be construction workers, fast food cooks, or the folks who work at the landfill. These people occupy crucial roles in our society but are largely ignored, or, at the very least viewed as interchangeable commodities. But the Lord has a point to make in this passage: these kinds of people who are rejected or ignored by society receive God’s special attention. News that is fit for the highest earthly ruler is instead given to these nameless men. The angels didn’t show up in Caesar’s grand palace; instead they show up in a field to poor shepherds.

And, as we saw two weeks ago with Zechariah, the shepherds are initially terrified. The passage indicates two sources of fear: the angel of the Lord and the glory of the Lord, the latter of which isn’t just dramatic lighting for the angel. “Glory” here is the same thing that happened when Israel was in the wilderness and God’s presence would descend onto the Tabernacle like a cloud, the same immanence that led Israel as a cloud in the day and a pillar of fire at night (Exo. 40:34-38). This is the light, cloud, or fire that denotes the presence of God, reminiscent of heaven which, unlike the earth, is fully inhabited by God’s presence and glory (on earth we have his uninhibited presence, but not his uninhibited glory). This is like a door in the air suddenly opening up into God’s heavenly throne room. All of us would be just as startled to encounter God’s presence like this in the middle of our work shift.

And to these lowliest members of society the best news ever is announced. Think of all the implications of the angel’s message: this news is for “all the people,” reminding us the Messiah came for more than just Israel; a child is “born this day in [Bethlehem],” the city in which the Messiah was predicted to be born (Matt. 2:5); this child is a “savior,” meaning a way of salvation has been opened for mankind; this child is called “Christ the Lord,” hinting at the miracle of the incarnation; and “peace on earth” can finally be had because of this child. And all the angels do is give these shepherds the details, sing a chorus, and then peace out. The shepherds don’t have to do anything, nothing is asked of them, they’re just told the good news. But they immediately set out to go find this child, to wonder with his parents at the signs of his birth, and tell everyone around the news of heaven given among men.

This is how we receive Christmas. We are the shepherds, undeserving of a divine proclamation and unwelcome in the sight of God’s heavenly courts. And yet God welcomes us to participate in the community that celebrates his arrival. We are the lost and lowly, never deserving God’s grace or presence, deserving instead to be banished from his presence forever. And yet he came to dwell with us. This is our story, the one we receive and repeat in the gospel, not some pretty Hallmark movie, but the stark reality of God coming to save the ungodly and bringing good news to sinners. This is Christmas.

Questions for Discussion

• Would someone read Luke 2:1–21 for us?

• What stands out to you from this passage?

• What do you think this was like for the shepherds?

• Shepherds were lowly, blue-collar workers in this time period. Why do you think God included them in the birth of his son?

• What do you think God wanted to tell us about Jesus through this story?

• How can this passage help us celebrate Christmas this year?