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When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.
As we begin a new year, let us ponder the lesson we can learn from the shepherds in today’s reading. Down the years many things have been said and presumed about the shepherds in Luke’s account of Christ’s Nativity. Many of the things that have been said have been negative and disdainful. For example, the shepherds have often been described as outcasts from decent, God-fearing society. But … they do play a significant part in the Lucan account of the Nativity. The angels did bring the good news of Jesus’ birth to the shepherds on the hills surrounding Bethlehem, a moment we recall every time we say or sing the Gloria in our services of Holy Communion. The shepherds did journey with haste to see the child lying in the manger. And, the shepherds did return glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.
It is true that the shepherds were peasants. They may have been fortunate enough to have some sort of small holding of their own, but they would still have needed to work long, antisocial hours if they were to survive in a harsh economic environment. However, despite their lowly social and economic status, it was to these humble peasants that the Good News was sent. As in Mary’s great song of praise (the Magnificat) it was the lowly who were lifted up, and not the rich and powerful. Similarly, the angels declared God’s glory in a field, and not in the grandeur of Temple or Palace. Surely there could be no doubt that a new day was dawning, and that a new world was coming.
Throughout Luke’s account of the Nativity we are given the immediate responses of those who were visited by angels. Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, expressed unbelief. Mary, the mother of Jesus, embraced God’s plan and declared herself to be God’s servant. Then came the shepherds on the hillside … they followed the sign they had been given. Like Mary they responded in haste. They testified to all they had heard and seen and, finally, they returned glorifying and praising God.
As we stand at the gateway of a new year, a moment that is shrouded in so much uncertainty, we are being challenged by the role model of the humble shepherds. In recent days we have heard the good news, now we have to decide what to do with it. Are we going to shrug it off as nonsense, the responsibility of others? Or, are we going to travel in haste with the shepherds, testifying to all we meet as we glorify and praise God?