In recent years, the nativity scene that we traditionally positioned under the Christmas tree in our home has been consigned to the top of our bookshelves in the living room (thanks to our cat and the more recent addition of a grandson). This requires that I climb a ladder to place the figures in and around the manger, and because I carry each figure separately, I have had more opportunity to study them.
I’ve always liked the fact that this nativity has not just one or two shepherds, but a group of four, and I find myself drawn especially to the unique characteristics of these figures. As you can see in the photo, each approaches the stable and the newborn Jesus in his own way. One kneels as he presents an open bag with small loaves of bread, another plays a horn, a third gazes up in stark awe and wonder at the sky that had been filled with angels, and the fourth carries a sheep, draped over his shoulders.
We know that the wise men brought precious gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh to present to the newborn king, but our nativity reminds me that even the humble shepherds had gifts to offer—as people created uniquely by God, they had gifts that differed, just as each of them differed.
I know people who are like these shepherds. I have friends who, in all situations of need or for gatherings of any kind, are immediately thinking of food. Like the shepherd bringing bread, their first thought is, “They’re going to be hungry.” They have an instinctive sense that food itself is a gift, bringing a sense of well-being, or adding to the fellowship of all who are present. They cringe when others want to dismiss a meal as “too much trouble.” Food is necessary, and therefore not a trouble to them.
I have other friends whose gift is music, and who likewise consider music to be a gift. Like the shepherd playing his horn, they seem to be always thinking, “There should be music.” Some of these friends play or sing with a talent that makes me marvel. Others simply have an enjoyment of it that is contagious, knowing that music can set a tone and enhance the mood of any event.
I have friends who approach God in stark awe and wonder. Like the shepherd gazing up at the sky, they are all eyes and ears for his message of grace and hope—a reminder to the rest of us that it is entirely appropriate to be blinded now and then by the glory of God and his amazing work in our lives…especially in sending his son, our Savior.
And I know people who have a strong sense of vocation. Like the shepherd bearing the sheep on his shoulders, they seem to be what their work is…but also able to join their friends as they participate in the activities of the greater community. With their strong sense of purpose, duty, and responsibility, they can be committed to the efforts and purposes of those around them, as well.
The Bible really doesn’t give much of a description of the actual shepherds in the account of Jesus birth in Luke 2. We really have no idea how many there were and speculation about their unique gifts and talents is just that—speculation. There may have been only two or three, or there may have been a dozen—with two or three or a dozen differing gifts. What we do know is that it was a night like any other, and that they were there in the fields near Bethlehem, keeping watch over their flocks by night, when,
“An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’” (Luke 2:9-14)
And we also know that the shepherds—after seeing and hearing the angels’ glorious announcement of Jesus’ birth—did not just look around at each other and say, “Wow, that was something!” Well, they may have said that, or something like it, but Luke 2 continues by telling us what they DID most definitely say to one another: “Let us now go, even unto Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass…” (Luke 2:15, KJV). And together they went. With their different gifts and unique personalities, they went together and found Mary and Joseph and the Baby Jesus.
After seeing the angel’s words confirmed, they again did not just look at each other and say, “Well, that was nice.” Well, they may have said that, or something like it, but what we know for sure is that they went and “spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child” (Luke 2:17). This thought strikes me as an important one. They went together, with one purpose, to spread the word. But each most likely did it in his own way, in his own style—and this is good, because those who heard this news, and were amazed by it, were also unique and different, hearing and receiving in different ways. Each of the shepherds brought something unique to the spreading of that good news!
It is now December 24, 2020, and it’s time again to celebrate our Savior’s birth. In many places in this incredible year, we will celebrate in new and unique and perhaps non-traditional ways. But let’s remember that we are nonetheless doing it together. Each of us, uniquely made and uniquely gifted, can say to one another, “Let us go now…and see this thing that has come to pass, that has also been made known to us!”
One of the things I would like to remember in 2020 is that, gathered together to worship in church, or worshiping from a distance and online, the body of Christ is still the body of Christ, and each of us who is part of this group of believers in Jesus is uniquely gifted for the sake of that body and the Good News of Jesus. This is assurance that God gives us in his Word, and there is much for us to do, as God’s people, both in encouraging one another and bringing hope and healing to the world around us.
So–let us go now! Let’s be like the shepherds. We have gifts that differ. Let’s bring them with us as we celebrate the good news announced by the angels when Jesus was born. And then let’s also “go now” to spread the word, knowing that God has uniquely gifted us for that, as well!