While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks (Luke 2:8-12)

Main Idea: While shepherds watched their flocks by night, when everything seemed so ordinary, the most extraordinary birth in all of history took place.


It’s interesting that almost everyone in our culture today celebrates Christmas, whether they believe in Jesus or not. A poll taken in 2019 showed that 93% of Americans celebrate Christmas, but only 71% of them say that they celebrate it in any way as a religious holiday. In other words, many people have come to incorporate the traditions of Christmas without observing the true meaning of Christmas. For many today, Christmas isn’t sacred, it’s just a normal part of the year.

And I don’t know if it’s because of commercialism, or just because I’m older than I used to be and I don’t get as many presents, but some of the magic of Christmas does seem to be missing as compared to how it was growing up. And yet, I wonder if what it’s missing isn’t something that it really needs. Because despite what most Hallmark Christmas movies may imply, Christmas isn’t primarily about family, or the gifts we give one another, or cuddling by the fireplace. Christmas is about the gift that God gave to us. And God gave us this gift in a very normal-looking package: the birth of Jesus.

So we’ve been talking these last few weeks about when Jesus was actually born. And the truth is, we honestly have no idea. We don’t know if He was born in December, or January, or even in the winter at all. Some people actually argue that Jesus was born in either spring or summer. We don’t know. But we do know that the night that Jesus was born seemed so very normal.

Luke 2:8-12

In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12)

Father, thank You for the greatest gift we can ever receive. Thank You for Jesus. In Jesus’s name, Amen.

I want you to think right now about one of the most ordinary things you did this past week. Something that maybe you do every week, or at least that no one would find all that interesting if you were to tell them you did that this week. What’s something ordinary you did this week?

Yeah, maybe you went to work, or school, or took out the trash. These are just the normal things that we do every week, and no one would think of any of these things as being special occasions.

And it was in that same kind of circumstance that an angel of the Lord appeared to the shepherds in the fields. To the shepherds, the night seemed so ordinary. It was a night like any other. They were watching their flocks by night because that’s what they did! That was their job. It was just a normal night.

So those who argue that Jesus was more likely born in the spring or summer point to the fact that the shepherds were outside, staying out in the fields, watching their flocks at night. And this would make perfect sense during the warmer months, but not as much sense in the dead of winter. In fact, the Jewish teachers wrote in the Talmud sheep were only free to roam the pasture from about March to November, so in December they would have been confined to the sheep pen.

And yet, historical evidence also shows that some animals were kept out in the fields even during the winter months, since animals were needed for the Jerusalem temple sacrifices year round. So, interestingly, the shepherds who may have been watching over the lambs which were going to be sacrificed were the first to hear about the birth of Jesus, who is the Lamb of God sacrificed for the sins of the world.

But in the end, we just don’t know. We don’t know that Jesus was born on December 25, and we don’t know that He wasn’t. But that’s not the point of the story. The point is what comes next. Verse 9.

Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: (Luke 2:9-10)

We had our Christmas nativity play here last night, and part of the play included this scene. We had shepherds and angels, and the angels appeared before the shepherds, and the shepherds acted like they were afraid. But as we were preparing the play, we talked about costumes for the angels, and my daughter Emily suggested that we make the angels more like how the Bible sometimes describes some of the angelic beings. We could stick those little googly eyes all over them, and maybe have 4 wings, and maybe have them resemble wild beasts like we see some cherubim in the Bible depicted. This is one artist’s rendering of what the cherubim looked like in Ezekiel.

[Picture of cherubim]

Now, not all angels in the Bible looked like that, because technically, not all angels are cherubim and cherubim might even be an entirely different creature from any of the angels. So we don’t know what these angels that appeared to the shepherds looked like, but the fact is, when we usually imagine this scene on the night Jesus was born, we probably don’t picture it the way it actually looked.

These shepherds were terrified! And they were terrified because angels are often described in the Bible as terrifying beings! They weren’t cute little things, they were warriors!

Try to imagine for a second that you’re outside at night, whether it’s summer or winter, it doesn’t matter, and all of a sudden a whole army appears, and all around them shines so that everything lights up as if it were day time. I think we’d all be a little scared, too!

So the angel said to the shepherds, “Don’t be afraid.” If it were to say that to me, I’d probably still be afraid. So the angel went on, and said, “For look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”

And this is what Christmas is about. As much as we might like or dislike shopping, or gift-giving, or even spending time with our families at Christmastime, that’s not what Christmas is about.

It’s not about the time of the year, or about shopping, or gift-giving, it’s about the good news, the gospel, that the angels proclaimed. And it’s good news of great joy.

When a lot of us think about Christmas, our favorite things are often the other things. We like spending time with family. We like giving and receiving gifts. We like spending time with family. And those can be great things! But if we look forward to these as the best things, as if these are what Christmas is all about, we’ve treated the gospel as if it’s just good news of mediocre joy. It’s good news of kind-of-a-little-bit-of joy. No! The gospel is good news of GREAT joy! This is the news that makes all other news pail in comparison!

And this news was not just for a few people. It wasn’t just for the Jews, and it’s not just for Christians to keep to themselves today. The angel told the shepherds that this was good news of great joy that will be for all the people!

So check out what this good news was. Verse 11.

Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:11)

This was the good news of great joy then, and it’s still the good news of great joy today. Jesus, who is the Messiah, our Lord, was born!

For any baby to be born is still somewhat of a miracle, but for the Son of God to be born as one of us to live and grow up to die for our sins as our Savior is the best news we can ever receive!

So many people wrestle all their lives with God. We’ve probably all done this at some point. We’ve attempted to cast off God’s authority. We’ve reasoned that God must not love us because of our circumstances, or even convinced ourselves that God must not be there all, because if He were, He’d do something about what we’re going through.

But Jesus being born as our Savior is the answer to all of these questions. God did something. Our Savior coming means that God will deal with all injustice, and has dealt with all injustice, and that He’s rescuing us from all our sin.

You see, what many people are often struggling to find for themselves in life has already been given to us by God. Through Jesus we have peace. Through Jesus we have joy. And through Jesus, we even have eternal life, because we’re completely loved and forgiven in Jesus Christ.

But instead of receiving Jesus as the gift that He is, many prefer to cling to sin. Jesus truly is the Savior of all men, but we each need to receive Him as our Lord. But instead, with the common thought that we no longer need archaic things like religion, people demand proof that Jesus is who He said He is.

But the truth is, God has already given us an abundance of proof! And it started long before Jesus was even born.

There are countless prophecies about Jesus in the Old Testament, written hundreds if not thousands of years before Jesus was born. Isaiah 7:14.

The Lord himself will give you a sign: See, the virgin will conceive, have a son, and name him Immanuel. (Isaiah 7:14)

Isaiah 9:6.

For a child will be born for us,
a son will be given to us,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
He will be named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Eternal Father, Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9:6)

Micah 5:2.

Bethlehem Ephrathah,
you are small among the clans of Judah;
one will come from you
to be ruler over Israel for me.
His origin is from antiquity,
from ancient times. (Micah 5:2)

And those are just a few pertaining to Jesus’s birth so that we would recognize Him when He came, how He would be born in Bethlehem of a virgin, but then there are also countless signs that Jesus Himself gave us during His life on the earth. Matthew 9:35.

Jesus continued going around to all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and every sickness. (Matthew 9:35)

John 11, starting in verse 41:

Jesus raised his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you heard me. I know that you always hear me, but because of the crowd standing here I said this, so that they may believe you sent me.” After he said this, he shouted with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out bound hand and foot with linen strips and with his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unwrap him and let him go.” (John 11:41-44)

And it says in John 20:

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples that are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

Nobody could explain any of the amazing and miraculous things that Jesus could do, except to recognize that He did them by the power of God in order to show us that He is the Savior.

And yet, before any of that, when it came to the night of His birth, the angel gave the shepherds a much simpler sign. The angel told them in verse 12:

This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12)

That, of course, would have been an unusual sight. A newborn baby would not be lying in a manger.

[Picture of wooden manger]

Usually when we picture the manger in this story, we picture something like this. Maybe it isn’t exactly ideal for a baby, but at least it looks kind of special, right? But maybe, instead, we should picture something like this:

[Picture of stone manger]

This is a water trough for animals cut from stone, the kind of thing found in many barns in the first century when Jesus was born. It’s no place for a baby. And even though we don’t know exactly what the manger looked like that Luke writes about, this was much more like the circumstance that our Savior was born into.

You see, the angel wasn’t just telling the shepherds how to recognize Jesus when they saw Him. I think that was part of it, because it certainly would have been unusual to see a baby born in such circumstances. But even more than that, the angel was showing how even from His birth, Jesus was despised and rejected by men, as the prophet Isaiah said He would be.

William Barclay wrote in his Daily Study Bible:

All through these readings we must have been thinking of the rough simplicity of the birth of the Son of God. We might have expected that, if he had to be born into this world at all, it would be in a palace or a mansion. There was a European monarch who worried his court by often disappearing and walking incognito amongst his people. When he was asked not to do so for security’s sake, he answered, “I cannot rule my people unless I know how they live.” -William Barclay

So while shepherds watched their flocks by night, when everything seemed so ordinary, the most extraordinary birth in all of history took place. The King of kings came down from His throne in heaven and was clothed in rags. He took on our humanity in order to live among us, feeling our pains, empathizing with our weaknesses, so that when He would die on the cross, He was intimately aware of just how fallen and broken we were, and yet He continued to love us.

Maybe this morning you came to church knowing how far you’ve been from where God wants you to be. The birth of Jesus reminds us that that’s okay. God loves you as you are, and not as you should be, because none of us are as we should be. It’s while we were yet sinners that Christ died for us.

Pastor Chris Huff

Pastor Chris Huff has been with us since July 2009.  He and his wife, Abby, have four children.  Chris is originally from St. Louis, MO and even though he was raised as a city boy, he has a small town heart. Chris is all over the internet, so you can find him on Facebook, Twitter,… (read more)

Bible Passages: Luke 2:8-12
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