They were just a group of shepherds doing what they did most nights, spending time in the fields guarding their sheep, perhaps taking turns to snatch a few hours sleep while the others kept watch. The night was still and quiet. Even the sheep were silent. The sky was crystal clear and cloudless, illuminated only by the twinkling of countless stars.
They became aware of a bright light gradually dispelling the darkness, increasing in its intensity until they were completely enveloped in a pool of white light. A figure appeared from within it and stood before them.
The shepherds were terrified, but there appeared to be no danger. A strange sense of peace filled the air. “Don’t be afraid,” said the stranger. “I have wonderful news for you. News that will bring peace and joy to all people.” They stared in amazement, trying to compose themselves and come to terms with their emotions. This holy, heavenly being went on to tell them that a Saviour had been born in Bethlehem - the Messiah, Christ the Lord. He would be found lying in a manger.
Suddenly the night sky was filled with what seemed like hundreds, if not thousands, of angels - for that’s what they were, all singing praises to the living God. As the sound of this heavenly choir descended upon the shepherds, they stared up in amazement. It was like heaven itself had come down upon them, and they were transfixed by the wonder and glory of God.
Then they were gone. The shepherds were left reeling after their awesome encounter, and all was quiet. They composed themselves and began to share with each other their experience. They needed to know the truth. Saviour of the world, in a manger? Son of God come down from heaven? This they had to see. They immediately left their sheep with these thoughts burning in their minds, and headed towards Bethlehem.
They had little difficulty finding the place. It was as if God Himself was guiding them. Overwhelmed by the sense of His presence and buoyed by the wonder of their experience, they cautiously entered the place described by the angel. Their hearts were racing with anticipation. There He was, just as they had been told, a newborn child, peacefully sleeping on a bed of straw, His doting mother beside Him gently caressing his forehead. They knew. This was indeed the Son of God. Their legs could no longer support them. Their knees buckled and the shepherds dropped to the ground prostrate before the child, praising Him and thanking God.
When it was made known to them that they were the first strangers to witness this coming of God into the world, in the person of His Son, their mission became clear. Everyone has to know about this. Lives will be changed from darkness to light, from death to life. ‘They spread the word concerning what they had been told about this child, and all who heard it were amazed’ (Luke 2:17-18).
Once we have experienced the wonder of the presence of God we know we must tell the world, just like the shepherds.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for Your wonderful gift, Your gift of life, hope, peace and joy, and for Your love which binds us together. Thank You, Jesus, for Your supreme sacrifice which made all this possible. As we celebrate Your coming, we hold on to the wonder of it all with praises of thanksgiving. Glory be to God in the highest, and, on earth, may there be peace for all, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
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