As reenacted in nativity scenes and Christmas pageants down through the history of western civilization, this story, in various ways, whether in part or whole, is told:
God promised Israel a coming Messiah. God chose a teenage virgin to be the mother of Israel’s promised Messiah. The virgin was engaged to a young and moral carpenter. A crisis pregnancy occurred. An angel of the Lord alerted Joseph that Mary’s child was conceived by the Holy Spirit. Angels announced Messiah’s birth to shepherds on a night vigil near a little Judean town of Bethlehem. Magi from the East visited the infant. To preserve the rights of his royal family to reign, paranoid King Herod ordered the infanticide of all male children under two years of age.
On the very night of our Savior’s birth, Luke, a physician turned historian, records that, “there were some shepherds out in the fields keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:8). Possessing gnarled and scared hands and countenancing weather-beaten faces, these ordinary men worked the grave-yard shift protecting their sheep, some of which were probably marked for eventual sacrifice at the temple about six miles away. With slings, crooked staffs, and studded clubs, these men risked their lives to protect their sheep from predatory animals and criminal rustlers.
Unbeknownst to them, one particular night was a holy night. The sheep were resting comfortably. The only sound that penetrated the quiet night was an occasional “baaaa!” of a sheep. Whether standing or sitting, these nameless shepherds breathed in the crisp night air as they fought off sleep’s beckoning call. It was a night like many others until . . . .
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