by Bekah Vickers
The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world. He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. — John 1:9-12
The world did not recognize him – Because he turned all our expectations upside down. This week, we are looking closely at the characters involved in Jesus’ birth in order to further understand that “the world did not recognize” Christ: in the Nativity Story, God turns every expectation upside down.
Read Luke 2:8-20
Sometimes my oldest comes up to me with a giant smile and says, “Guess what, Mom? Good news!” And when I turn to him expectantly, he follows up with something like, “I got Luigi in Mario Run!”
He and I do not have the same concept of “good news.”
But oh, to have been a shepherd on that night when the angels appeared with the only good news that has ever really mattered! What must it have been like for these lowly men, faithfully tending their woolly charges, to suddenly see Heaven? And what in Heaven’s name were the angels thinking when they chose a group of shepherds as their audience? One thing is certain: once again, God does the unexpected; once again, we see that God’s ways are not our own.
This mighty angel host might’ve appeared to anyone with their news, but they chose these shepherds. They chose men who were on the outskirts of society, who were considered permanently unclean because of their vocation, who were valued so little that the Rabbis taught that they were not even worth rescuing from a pit.
But God did not agree. Louie Giglio suggests that “God came to them because He knew the shepherds couldn’t make it to church.” God was willing to rescue them from a pit – and in fact, puts them first in line to see the beginning moments of the greatest rescue plan of all time. And the shepherds respond willingly to this invitation – running to find this baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. And after seeing the child, they are the first to begin evangelizing about Jesus; they tell everyone they know about what they’ve heard and witnessed – the “good news of great joy.” And then they return to their fields, singing and praising God, perhaps with the very songs of the angels themselves.
But that is the last we hear from the shepherds. In fact, none of these first visitors of Jesus – the shepherds, the wise men, even Simeon and Anna – are spoken of again in the Gospels. Of course, that does not mean their lives were not permanently changed – but it’s worth noting that their roles in this drama are significant – but also very small. We don’t even know if any of them had any real concept of the sacrifice that Jesus would make 33 years later. The fact is that they heard the “good news,” and they rejoiced in the Messiah’s birth, but they could not possibly have understood the full ramifications of this plan that God was carefully rolling out before their very eyes.
However, some believe these may have been the very shepherds who tended the Temple flock, lambs who were raised in order to be given in sacrifice to God. They may have understood better than most what it would mean when Jesus did offer himself as the sacrificial lamb – and perhaps that is why God includes them from the very beginning. Perhaps in the future, these shepherds – or their sons and daughters – will suddenly understand that night of the Good News in a wholly different light, as they watch the Lamb of God being raised up for all our sins, once and forever more.
This is the way it is for us, sometimes. We hear the Gospel’s good news at various points in our lives, and maybe we respond willingly – we run to find Jesus – and then perhaps we rejoice at the discovery of such a Savior! But then as we continue on in our lives, we sometimes hear this Good News again, and because of our maturity or maybe because of hard experiences, we understand that Gospel in an entirely different light, with a whole new level of truth and mystery, and we come away from the encounter knowing God more deeply, trusting Him more completely. It seems possible that if we continue to listen closely, we might at any time begin to hear the angels singing again, pointing us in the right direction once more so that we might discover anew the Good News of Christ, and walk away from the experience glorifying and praising God for all we have seen and heard.