“Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place” Luke 2:15
The story of the shepherds is a story filled with verbs, filled with words describing what the shepherds did. If we look at the words, “living”, “go”, “found” and “returned”, they help help us to think about the shepherds response to the Good News and they help us to think about our own response.
Saint Luke Chapter 2 Verse 8 tells us that, “In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” Living in the fields meant not only were they on the edge of things physically, but they were also on the edge of society. Living rough lives, they simply would have been unable to observe the rigour of the Jewish ritual and dietary laws. The hundreds of laws that governed every aspect of daily life were impractical to men who lived in the harsh environment of the shepherd. Shepherds were coarse; they were unclean; they would have been shunned by the respectable religious leadership. Living in the fields, the shepherds would have felt themselves beyond religion, and that they were far from God.
Perhaps many of us feel like the shepherds, that we are far from God, or that God is far from us, but the Christmas story tells us that it is the people who are out on the edge, the people who feel they are from religious, to whom God comes. If God comes to the shepherds living in the fields, God is also present in our lives – if we want to see him there.
The second verb is “go.” The angel brings the shepherds news of the birth of Jesus and they are astonished and terrified, but the encounter with the heavenly host makes them determined to respond. In Verse 15, we read, “the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place.'” The shepherds have been living in the fields in order to watch over their flocks, but they are prepared to leave their flocks on the hillside in order to go to Bethlehem. They have been out on the edge, they have not counted, they have been people no-one would have welcomed, but they straightaway respond to the Good News, they go.
If we are like the shepherds, if we feel that we have been far away from God, then how do we respond to the Good News? If God speaks to us, as the angels spoke to the shepherds, then would we be like the shepherds? Would we be prepared to leave where we are so as to go where God wants us to go?
“Living”, “go”; the third verb is “found.” Saint Luke Chapter 2 Verse 16 says, “So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.” We don’t know what the shepherds expected to find, perhaps they thought they were going to find something very different from the child of poor parents lying in a manger. Perhaps, though, they were pleased at what they found, pleased that God had come as someone like themselves, pleased that God had come as someone who would understand them and their lives.
Had we been the shepherds, how would we have felt? Would we have expected to find God in such a place? If we were looking for God, where would we look? If we found God present in an unlikely place, would we recognize him?
The final verb is “returned”. Verse 20 tells us, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” Returning was the real challenge for the shepherds. Imagine being in their place, imagine being on the hillside when these extraordinary events took place. Imagine having the determination to leave the flocks behind and to go to Bethlehem. Imagine the sense of wonder at finding the child in the manger, the wonder at the feeling of being in the presence of God. How easy would it have been for the shepherds to return to their lives watching the flocks? Wouldn’t there have been a sense of disappointment? The shepherds are not disappointed, they glorify and praise God.
How good are we at being Christians who go back into our ordinary lives filled with inspiration and enthusiasm? Coming to church at Christmas, when everything is special, there is a sense of things being different, but it is when the holidays are over, when life returns to humdrum reality that the challenge comes? How good are we at returning?
Living, go, found and returned: the shepherds set a pattern for us.