In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night.
—Luke 2:8

The third act of Luke’s account of Jesus’s birth occurs on a hill outside of Bethlehem. “In the same region there were some shepherds staying out in the fields and keeping watch over their flock by night” (2:8). Now most people don’t realize this story did not take place in December. It was probably in the spring, close to Passover. It was very likely that these shepherds were taking care of sheep that would soon become the Passover lambs.

Now you have to know something about shepherds to appreciate what is going on in this story. Shepherds were the lowest rung in the Jewish culture. Shepherds took care of dirty and smelly sheep, so the shepherds were dirty and smelly–and there was no deodorant back then to take away the stench. So if you were going to have a party, guess who you would not invite? Shepherds were the outcasts of Jewish society. Isn’t it interesting that God chose to make His announcement of the Savior’s birth not to the political leaders in Rome, not to the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem, but to these smelly, dirty shepherds? Look at how it came about: “An angel of the Lord suddenly stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them; and they were terribly frightened” (v. 9). Imagine you were out there in the darkness when suddenly an angel appeared. The shepherds had every right to be afraid, but the angel said, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger” (vv. 10-12).

Suddenly the voice of the angel gave way to a multitude of angels saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom He is pleased” (v. 14). When the angels finished, “The shepherds began saying to one another, ‘Let us go straight to Bethlehem then, and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us’” (v. 15). This is the first instance of a Christmas rush in history. The shepherds went quickly to see this thing. “When they had seen this, they made known the statement which had been told them about this Child. … The shepherds went back, glorifying and praising God for all that they had heard and seen” (vv. 17, 20).

The gospel is not a message of hate; it is a message of hope. It is “good news of great joy,” and it is for “all the people” (v. 10). The good news is that anyone who trusts in Christ can be forgiven of his or her sins. Just as the angel’s good news broke the darkness of that night, the gospel does the same for you and me. It doesn’t matter how dark your situation is right now, the good news of Jesus’s forgiveness bursts through like light and dispels the darkness.

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Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Back to Bethlehem” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2016.

Scripture quotations are taken from the NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.

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