Focal Passage: Luke 2:8-20
The rural farmer was the
backbone of America’s past. In 1935 there were 6.8 million farms in America.
Today 2.1 million farms remain.
Forty-six thousand farms
account for 50 percent of agricultural sales.
In 1870 a single worker
could tend 27.5 acres, while today the average farm worker tends 740 acres.
Likewise, the Palestinian
shepherd was the backbone of ancient Israel.
One recalls the sacrifice of
120,000 sheep, as well as 22,000 oxen, at the dedication of the Temple (1 Kings
That’s a lot of sheep! The
shepherd was a part of Israelite history and ritual: “The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1, KJV).
John the Baptist declares,
“Behold the Lamb of God” (John 1:36).
Jesus is called the good
shepherd — the Messiah (John 10:10-11, 14-18, 26-30).
Jesus challenges Peter to
feed his sheep (John 21:15-17). The leaders of the church are called shepherds
(Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2).
This passage begins and ends
with the shepherds in their fields, keeping watch over their flock.
Yet something wonderful
happens between verse 1 and 20.
Verse 1 underscores an
ordinary day of work.
By verse 20 the shepherds
are filled with joy, praising and glorifying the Lord. Why?
Because they had heard and
seen something which moved them deeply! How long has it been since you were
moved deeply to praise and glorify the Lord?
Fear is the first response
to the angel. The coming of an angel may bring judgment (Gen. 18) or good news
(Luke 1:13, 31). This coming means good news for everyone (2:10).
The Messiah is born in
Bethlehem! The good news echoes through a “multitude of heavenly host, praising
Charles Wesley’s hymn, “Hark
the herald angels sing,” recreates the scene in music.
Charles Talbert affirms,
“When the angels sang of the benefits of Jesus’ lordship, they sang both glory
to God and peace to men — one song, heralding a dual benefit of the Messiah’s
birth” (Reading Luke. Smyth and Helwys, 36).
The discomfort of laying a
new-born infant in a manger — an animal’s feeding unit, becomes a sign to the
shepherds that this is indeed the Christ child (2:7, 12, 16). Bruce Malina and
Richard Rohrbaugh suggest that “the manger would have been the normal place for
peasant births” (Social-Science Commentary on the Synoptic Gospels. Fortress
Press, 1992, 296).
“Swaddling refers to tightly
binding the trunk and limbs of the baby in cloth . . . to keep their limbs
straight” (296; Cf. Howard Marshall, The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the
Greek Text. Eerdmans, 1978, 106).
The young mother Mary
treasures the shepherds’ words while meditating on their meaning.