Though I myself have not had one (yet), I have seen the joy a new baby brings to parents; they want everyone to come and see the baby. As we saw with Zechariah and Elizabeth, parents want family and neighbors around them during this time in order that they might share in the joy as well. And so here are the new parents, Mary and Joseph, with their baby, Jesus, who is the child of angelic announcement, destined to be the Savior of all men, and who comes to see him? None other than the shepherds of the field.
Luke, recording history, continues to show the “commonness” and simplicity of the birth of Jesus. No room in the inn. Alone in a manger. Born in an obscure, dusty town. And now visited by shepherds. It was probably cool that night, though we don’t know exactly what time of the year it was. It was night though (Luke 2.8). When suddenly, in an instant, an angel appears and the night sky is lit up as the glory of the Lord shone around. We don’t know this angel’s name but I think it would be safe to say he too stood in the presence of the Lord because he brought with him the glory of the Lord, like the face of Moses after he had been on the mountain. And this angel comes with a message.
From the Lips of Angels
This angel begins with comfort – do not be afraid (see 1.13, 30). This angel brings with him “good news” that is for all people. In Bethlehem (the town of David), a Savior is born. John (and only John) would call him the Savior of the World (John 4.42). Indeed, Jesus’ mission is clear even from brith: salvation of makind from their sins. But more than that, Jesus is Christ. The “anointed one;” not just ‘an’ anointed one, but ‘the’ anointed one. One was anointed for a special service, esp. king and priest. And to be sure, Jesus is our kingly priest as the Hebrew writer would point out. And also, Jesus is Lord. He is the ruler, master, the only who is in charge. It is at his name every knee shall bow and every tongue confess. The angel announces these things but before he joins the rest of the heavenly host, he gives them a sign: Jesus in the manger.
The Lord’s Army
Immediately there is a great sound in the air as a number of the heavenly host (lit. army) has shown up. This is the fighting force of heaven but they come not with hostility; this army announces peace. “Glory to God” will always precede peace. God deserves all the honor and praise for what he has done: this is the “zenith of divine Self-revelation” as one commentator has put it. God has come near his people that he might redeeem them and save them. Following this announcement of peace on earth, the angels return to their heavenly abode.
The shepherds, though, go out in search of the one whom the angels spoke of. They want to see the good news of God. And so they find Mary and the baby and just as the angels had said, he is in the manger. It would appear the first to visit Jesus are these shepherds. One note on shpeherds – shpeherds were a class that had a bad reputation. They were seen as unreliable and untrustworthy. In fact, the Talmud says that they are not allowed to testify in court (Talmud, Sanhedrin 25b). And so for these to be the some of the first to lay eyes on the Savior is a remarkable thing. I think it demonstrates that God is no respecter of persons and that the good news is for all.
After seeing the “salvation of God” (cf. 2.30), these shepherds return to the fields but are unable to keep what they have seen to themselves. They go around and spread the word about Jesus and the great things he is destined for. Mary, though, treasures these things. In my opinion, it would seem Luke received this data directly (or at least indirectly) from Mary, in order to know that she treasured up these things. Like any mother, she keeps these memories for herself. Literally, she preserved in a safe condition. But more than that, she pondered them also. Literally, she thought seriously and soberly about these things. She considered the implications of these things for her life and for her childs life, though I doubt she could understand the manifold plan of God at that time. Until Jesus returned to the Father and sent the Spirit to the apostles, this remained a mystery.
We must understand that Mary was not “a perfect being who inmmediately understood perfectly and permenantly grasped the full significance of the angels’ tidings.” After all, in Mark 3.20-35, she is ready with the rest of Jesus’ siblings to drag him back to Nazareth thinking him crazy. So while she did ponder these things, it is doubtful she (or anyone else for that matter) fully comprehended what all this meant.
Luke, the Historian
Recorded for us by a great historian moved by the Spirit to write these things down perfectly and with clarity, we have a simple account of the humble beginning of Jesus the Lord. One commentator has said that “in this narrative, Luke records in a sober and life-like manner, events of a beautiful and miraculous nature, but at the same time actual history.” In addition to this comment, he also wrote that any attempt to relate this account to any apocryphal account of other supernatural births and occurences have been untenable and other attempts to compare it as an imitation of an extra-biblical story have failed also. This is actual, factual history concerning the greatest birth ever: Jesus Christ, the Savior.