8 Nearby shepherds were living in the fields, guarding their sheep at night. 9 The Lord’s angel stood before them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and they were terrified.
10 The angel said, “ Don’t be afraid! Look! I bring good news to you—wonderful, joyous news for all people. 11 Your savior is born today in David’s city. He is Christ the Lord. 12 This is a sign for you: you will find a newborn baby wrapped snugly and lying in a manger. ” 13 Suddenly a great assembly of the heavenly forces was with the angel praising God. They said, 14 “ Glory to God in heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors. ”
15 When the angels returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “ Let’s go right now to Bethlehem and see what’s happened. Let’s confirm what the Lord has revealed to us. ” 16 They went quickly and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they reported what they had been told about this child. 18 Everyone who heard it was amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 Mary committed these things to memory and considered them carefully. 20 The shepherds returned home, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen. Everything happened just as they had been told.
Growing up, my dad was to our church what Michael Adler is to Shades (minus the hair…). He would always put together amazing Christmas programs for our church to celebrate the birth of Christ and the Gospel. I had an unbroken streak of appearances in the Christmas program for 18 years, and many of those years, I played some sort of shepherd. So as we reflect on the Shepherd’s Candle, I can’t help but think about getting to participate in these celebrations year after year.
Indeed, the Shepherd’s Candle has a lot to do with participation. Up until this point in the Gospel of Luke, the Good News of Jesus’ birth has been confined to the traditional boundaries of birth announcements: close friends and family. We have this picture of God sharing His gift with Mary and her relatives Elizabeth and Zechariah. But now, this birth announcement gets a new audience. Here is this crew of unlikely folks just doing their dirty sheep work in the field, when God breaks into their world with this radical Good News. God’s Good News is truly “joyous news for all people!”
The shepherds in all their dirty, commonness may not be most expected people to participate in this birth announcement, but in a different way, perhaps they should be. As shepherds, you can imagine these folks had participated in many a birth out in the field. Shepherds near Jerusalem would play an important role in providing for the various festivals and sacrifices in and around the Temple. You can imagine that more than once these guys had seen little lambs born knowing that they would be raised to be poured out in a Temple sacrifice or Passover festival. And then here, on this strange shattered-darkness night near Bethlehem, these folks are invited to the birth of the Lamb of God. They attend to the birth of the One who will be poured out for the sins of the world.
As we read the story of the Shepherds, knowing the ending that they could not have anticipated, we see the beauty of God’s invitation. We see how through the sacrifice of Christ, He truly does have Good News that draws “all people” into participation (and ultimately adoption) with the family of God. As we celebrate the Shepherds candle, rejoice at our participation in the family of God because of what God has accomplished in Christ.