Advent Devotional - Mary and the Shepherds
Devotional Reading – Luke 2:1-21
2 In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. 2 This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. 3 And all went to be registered, each to his own town. 4 And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, 5 to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. 6 And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. 7 And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn."
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
21 And at the end of eight days, when he was circumcised, he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
Thoughts for Meditation
Most Christmas passages are familiar to us, particularly those of the birth narrative. They are comfortable and well worn, like a good Christmas sweater. And like Christmas sweaters, we pull them out during Advent, and we store them away during the rest of the year. And like all things with which we have a great familiarity, we tend to overlook the odder, more unexpected parts of the story.
Let’s try to read the story with fresh eyes.
We meet Mary and Joseph as they get into Bethlehem, responding to a census order from the emperor. Joseph’s ancestral city was overrun with everybody coming from all ends of the Roman Empire. Normally, Mary and Joseph would have stayed with a member of his family, however distant a cousin they might have been. But there was no room. The next option was to stay at an inn, but again, there was no room. So they stayed the only place that they could find, the last resort. They stayed in a stable, and the Son of God had a manger for first bed. How hard that must have been! To have to bed down amidst the animals. Everything must have seemed out of control, and they had to be wondering what the Lord was doing.
But the prophet Micah told us where the Savior would be born 700 years before (Micah 5:2); He would be born in Bethlehem. Everything was going exactly according to plan. The Lord of the Universe, who “declar[es] the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done” (Isaiah 46:10), planned from before creation to send the Savior, His Son, to earth to be born in a manger. More than that, He planned to bring this about through a census of the Roman government, which would force Mary and Joseph to go to Bethlehem from Nazareth. God always keeps His promises, though rarely the way we would expect.
We meet the shepherd next. The Lord of the Universe makes Himself low, and the first people He calls to Himself is a bunch of shepherds. The shepherds, for their part, are terrified when the angels appear. We can well imagine the scene. The dark of the night covers them, as they settled around a fire. Things are peaceful, and probably quiet. Then all of a sudden, an angel appears, with the glory of the Lord. They freeze like a deer in the headlights, wondering whether or not they should run. And the angel reassures them not to be afraid. A Savior, Christ the Lord has been born in the city nearby. And this shall be the sign for them: they will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger. Then, the angel was joined with an army of angels praising God!
Why is the world did the shepherds need a sign? Surely the appearance of the angels would have been sign enough! And, though odd in its own right, why would finding a baby in a manger be more of a sign than the appearance of the angels?
I think perhaps the sign was as much for Mary as it was for the shepherds. We are told that everyone that the shepherds told wondered at what they heard, but Mary treasured it up in her heart. She had just given birth to her baby boy, and as much joy as that brought her, she must have been feeling anxious as well. The young mother was in a strange city, in a dirty stable, hurting from the birth, and the promised Savior lay before her in an animals’ feed trough. I don’t know that we can even imagine how overwhelming that would have been. But then in come the shepherds, asking to see the child, their Savior, telling her about the massive choir of angels singing His praises. What comfort the Lord provided her! He hadn’t abandoned her. He was still in control, and He loved her enough to send her a sign that He was with her. Even when everything seemed so out of control.
Further Reading – Revelation 5:6-14
6 And between the throne and the four living creatures and among the elders I saw a Lamb standing, as though it had been slain, with seven horns and with seven eyes, which are the seven spirits of God sent out into all the earth. 7 And he went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who was seated on the throne. 8 And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. 9 And they sang a new song, saying,
“Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.”
11 Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, 12 saying with a loud voice,
“Worthy is the Lamb who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might
and honor and glory and blessing!”
13 And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying,
“To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”
14 And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped.