“Now in that same region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid, for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them, and Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told them.” Luke 2:8-20
It is late into the night. It’s an ordinary night, like those that make up the life that keeps flowing on, with its good and hard things.
A group of shepherds are on duty, doing their work, which also has its good and hard things. The smell of little lambs, the warm milk of their mothers, the soft wool that gives them warmth, the long stories at night – all these make life more pleasant, even good, despite the hardships and suffering from which they could not hide then, more than two thousand years ago, and we cannot hide from today.
I imagine a whole spectrum of people in that small group of shepherds. Some very lively, perhaps with too many words to them. Others tired. Some burdened by a situation at home. Others in conflict with a loved one or even with someone in their group. Some with burdens too big for their small shoulders. Others with questions and searching for something more, with a longing that grinds their souls. What a great variety of people must have been there, just as we are each so different! An ordinary night in our lives, even today, can find us encouraged, with zest and delight, or with plans that don’t work out as we had counted and predicted. With our own frail hearts already tired even by our own weariness.
How does this ordinary night find you?
That ordinary night in the lives of ordinary people was interrupted by a cosmic event that was going to change history, it transformed the witnesses of the event, and it reaches us with the same power to stir and transform that was available then! The event of the incarnation of the promised Savior and the Good News of His coming turned an ordinary night into one that will be celebrated for all eternity – in the history of this planet and long beyond! It is the Night of Joy!
“Do not be afraid, for see, I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
Everything changes in the Night of Joy! Light fills the darkest corner of our lives. Hope takes real shape in the believing heart – it takes the shape of a Baby. Peace floods our being in spite of our circumstances. In the Night of Joy everything is transformed and transformation goes hand in hand with a response.
In the Night of Joy, the Good News of the Birth of Jesus motivates the shepherds to action. They are ready to leave their sheep immediately and go to see the Child. I wonder if they had a hard time doing that. Did they worry that their sheep would suffer while they were gone? Rightly so, because the sheep represent their family’s livelihood. Did they leave someone behind to watch over the animals? Or have they completely forgotten about the sheep, because in the cosmic economy of things, the sheep no longer matter at all? I wonder what the Christmas Story would have been like if the shepherds had said “Let’s go tomorrow. It is dangerous to leave the sheep alone at night, and we cannot go with the whole flock to Bethlehem, which is already too crowded.”
Who or what are your “sheep”? Are there things in your life that prevent you from coming to the Manger, from coming to the Baby? Joy requires a response to the invitation to come to the Baby and to leave behind anything that prevents us from doing so, not just on the Night of Joy, but every day.
On the other hand, the Good News of Great Joy also comes with an invitation to another action step: the shepherds received a mission, just as we receive it today. “The Good News of Great Joy for all the people” can reach all the people only if we spread it. The first response is to receive the Joy (to come and know the Baby), and the second immediately follows: to tell about this Joy “to all the people” – to those in our family, our neighbors, colleagues, all those we meet on the path of our life, to the ends of the earth.
“When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them.”
I can imagine how the “Five O’Clock News” might have sounded in the little town. How the news spread because “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told them.”
The Night of Joy is followed by the Morning of Joy. I don’t know how they found the sheep the next day, the Scriptures do not give us that detail. I think we don’t need to know what had happened to the sheep because the lesson for us is that Joy does not depend on circumstances. It does not depend on the favorable response at our jobs. It does not depend on the presence or absence of financial comfort. It does not depend on a life partner or the birth of children. Joy does not depend on what we have or do not have. Joy depends entirely on the Baby. And when our heart becomes a manger for the Baby to be born in, He helps us to be able to enjoy the other things and people that He so generously leaves in our lives.
The Baby is Joy! Joy invites us to Him! And He gives us a mission, to spread Joy – in this Holiday season and every day of the year.
Have a Joy-Filled Christmas – the contagious Joy!
- Who or what brings you joy these days?
- Do you remember specific times when Jesus really brought you joy? What happened? How did you react? Who was there? Who did you tell about this?
- What are the “sheep” that prevent you from coming to the manger, to the Baby, during these Holidays?
- Who are the people in your life who need to hear about the Joy that the Baby brings? What can you do for them these days?
- Rest, listening to the song of the angels. Imagine what that night was like. Do not rush. Find a song on YouTube that sings glory to God and listen to it on repeat…when you’re ready, sing along with all your heart.