The shepherds visit the infant Jesus, 2:8-21


Having related the story of Jesus' birth, Luke now tells of the manifestation of divine glory to a group of poor and insignificant shepherds, who, having been told of the messiah's birth, rush off to Bethlehem to witness for themselves the wonder of God's promised intervention into human affairs.

The passage

v8-10. For centuries, the people of Israel had waited patiently for God's salvation, they had waited for the day when God's messiah would save his people, save them from the powers of darkness, from powers both secular and spiritual. Now that day had dawned, but the news is not announced to the spiritual authorities of the day, but to a group of lowly shepherds. It is nighttime, and the shepherds are out in the fields. Faced with the angelic apparition they are filled with fear, but they are told not to fear for the news is good.

v11-12. The angel, who is probably Gabriel, announces the epiphany of God's savior, the long awaited Davidic messiah, the mighty one. The sign that Gabriel's words are true can be found in Bethlehem, for there the shepherds will find a newborn babe laying in an animal's feeding trough.

v13-14. Gabriel's news is so wonderful that the heaven's are rent asunder and the heavenly host bursts into praise. "Majesty in the heavens with God and peace upon earth with those on whom his favor rests." Of course, we do well to remember that God's favor rests on those who seek his favor.

v15-17. The shepherds, on hearing the news, rush off to Bethlehem, confirm the sign, and tell all those in the stable, in fact probably everyone who would listen to them, what they had just seen and heard.

v18-19. The response of most people who hear the news is amazement, a response that is well short of faith, but Mary takes it in and considers it carefully.

v20. As for the shepherds, they return to their flocks and do so praising God. They have certainly moved beyond fear and amazement to faith.

v21. And as for the newborn babe, after the prescribed eight days before circumcision, he is named JESUS, the name appointed by Gabriel.


1. What is so significant in God announcing the coming day of salvation to a group of shepherds?

2. Identify the three titles given Jesus and explain what they mean.

3. Explain what the praise of the heavenly host tells us about the two dimensions of heaven and earth.

4. Identify the different responses to the news that the day of salvation has arrived?

A parting in the celestial canopy

The time-space dimension of this world is only rarely disturbed. Sometimes we see a shimmer in the tangible vale that surrounds us, an awareness that what we see, hear, touch, is actually fragile, but only rarely do we sense this. Most of the time life just rumbles on, the good and the bad of it.

I guess it's my age that prompts me to feel life floating somewhat; I'm just not as rooted in my environment as I used to be. Memories don't help. Recently, I dug out a pile of old 8mm movies and had them transposed to DVD. They went back 60 years. There were films of my childhood and of my children's childhood. Dear me, faces of people engulfed in the passing years. Grandparents gone, parents gone, and I am sad to say, children gone. I simply can't watch these films without tears streaming down my face. Yes, these days the vale shimmers somewhat.

It is true that Christmas is overdone. I think we have worked every angle possible, whether it's the religious side of the story, the season to be jolly angle, or the marketing angle, ...... we have squeezed every drop out of it. When I attended the Congregationalist Sunday School at Killara in Sydney Australia, playing a shepherd in the Christmas pageant was a wondrous experience, but the same buzz is not quite with me these days.

So, where do we find the wonder of Christmas? Of course, it's in the birth of God's saviour, Jesus, the one who is both Lord and Christ - "Lord" in the sense of the divine man, and "Christ" in the sense of the promised man. And he is saviour in that he is the one who can take us from this age of corruption and death, to the coming age of life, to the fullness of life eternal. The wonder of all this is actually on display in v13 of our passage, because when the angel Gabriel announces the birth, or better, the epiphany of God's saviour, at this point we get one of those rare moments in time when our time-space dimension shears, it parts, it's pushed apart. There, before the eyes of the shepherds, is not just a shimmer in our reality, but a parting. The heavenly host, an angelic army of countless number bursts into our time-space dimension, and even this army is but the front row of legions behind. And they are ecstatic as they proclaim "Majesty in the heavens with God and peace upon earth with those on whom his favor rests." It wasn't ho-hum with them.

The heavenly host is ecstatic because God's majesty is on display in the salvation of broken humanity. The time has arrived, a time of "peace", peace with God, eternal peace, an eternal peace for those favored by God, or should I say, those who seek his favor.

So, take a moment; there is still wonder to behold in the Christmas story.

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