Hurry with the Shepherds to the Birth of Christ

Angel-visits-shepherds-on-first-Christmas

For a number of years now as Christmas approaches I’ve been doing an Advent meditation that’s a great blessing! I ask the Holy Spirit to help me pick a Bible character from the Christmas story to companion during advent.

In addition to the Gospel accounts of the events surrounding the birth of Christ, I’ve used eight of the figurines from our large nativity set to help me enter into the Christmas story. Some of the characters will surprise you! Zechariah (John the Baptist’s father), Mary, Joseph, the innkeeper, the angels, the shepherds, a little lamb, and the Magi.

Last year in my Advent meditation God led me to identify with the shepherds and to meditate on Luke 2:8-20 in a process called “Lectio Divina.” As I meditated on the Gospel passage I was especially drawn to the phrase: “So they hurried and found… the baby lying in a manger.”

A Meditation on the Gospel to the Shepherds

For the shepherds it was just another routine day caring for their sheep. Now it was nighttime and they were watching their flocks to protect them from wild animals. Probably they were sleepy. Perhaps some slept while others took their turns straining to stay alert and ready to defend the sheep.

Then all of a sudden a bright light shone on them and scared them to death! What was it? An angel! He was proclaiming God’s favor on them and telling them that the Messiah had just been born in the town of Bethlehem right below them! Then a whole company of angels appeared in the sky just above them! Shining brightly and singing in heavenly voices, the angels proclaimed, “Glory to God and peace to all who will receive the Messiah.”

Lord, of all the people you might have chosen to receive the message of the first Christmas you chose the shepherds. They didn’t deserve this and they knew it. They were poor and looked down upon by the people. People didn’t even want to go near them. But they watched the sheep with care. Perhaps they were also watching for the long-awaited Messiah.

We know the shepherds hurried to obey the word of God and to go see the Christ child. They were ecstatic to hear that the Messiah had come and they had been chosen to see him! What honor and delight they’d been given! With enthusiasm they shared the angels’ “good news of great joy” with Mary and Joseph and with the people of Bethlehem.

All who heard the shepherd’s story of Jesus were amazed, but Mary treasured and pondered Jesus in her heart. Years later, she would share the shepherds’ story with Jesus and God the Father would use this to help Jesus appreciate his identity and mission. (For more on this part of the Christmas story read my devotional, “Mary Was More than Amazed by the Birth of Christ.”)

Prayer of Confession and Longing

Father, why have you led me to identify with the shepherds this Advent? I am drawn to the way they hurried to see Christ. I want to be the kind of person who is eager to be with you, Jesus. O that I would watch for you like the shepherds did. O that I would rush for nothing in this world except to be at your side so that I can hold you in my heart always.

I’m sad to admit that I get distracted and sleepy. Jesus, you are the King and your glorious kingdom, filled with angels, is all around me, even in the mundane things of my life. O that I would use eyes of faith to see into spiritual reality as I go about my day. I want to treasure you and the privilege of being a part of your kingdom. Knowing that you are with me transforms my ordinary work into something glorious. And then your “good news of great joy” spills out from me to others.

Early this week I didn’t treasure you Jesus. I got frustrated about our broken jacuzzi and had a complaining spirit about the complications and expense of trying to replace it. As Kristi and I talked about this I lapsed into an old, familiar negative disposition and it hung on me like a dark cloud for a couple of days. By your grace I’ve experienced so much freedom from this oppression in recent years and it was discouraging to find myself falling back into this old pit. Even as I prayed I couldn’t break free! What happened to my thankful spirit? It was still Thanksgiving weekend!

I wasn’t watching for you Jesus. I wasn’t alert to you and focused on what you were doing — I was focused on me and my stress and perfectionism.

Then a couple of days later you brought me into my Advent meditation on “Experiencing the Birth of Christ Anew” and I identified with the lowly shepherds in the Christmas gospel. I trusted that even as you favored them 2,000 years ago you were favoring me!

But then even after these wonderful meditations later that night I got frustrated and reacted poorly to the pressure I felt from Jennie to help her complete her fundraising letter for her upcoming spring break mission trip to Honduras. It was almost bedtime, I was tired, and at that same moment David and Briana needed me.

Once again, I lost sight of you Jesus. What if I would’ve been treasuring you and pondering your words at the moment of Jennie’s urgent request? At the moment that Kristi talked to me about the problem with our jacuzzi?

Thank you Jesus, my King, that right now as I have once again returned to this Advent meditation from Luke 2 you are with me! I treasure you Jesus! 

Yes, Father God, with the shepherds I hurry to see Christ born anew in my heart right now! O that I would continue to ponder and rejoice in the birth of Christ so that when stress comes I’d respond not from my own meager resources but from within the kingdom of Christ, your glorious kingdom of righteousness, peace, and joy.

Lord, I want to treasure you in all that I do. In my conversation with Jennie later today.  In my time with my family this weekend. In our Soul Shepherding ministry with our need for strong year-end giving so that we can continue to care for pastors and their wives to your glory.

Listening for God’s Voice (What I Sensed God Might Be Saying to Me from the Bible Passage)

If the shepherds hadn’t responded to my word by hurrying to see Christ then Mary wouldn’t have had my word to them to treasure up and ponder in her heart. The shepherd’s treasure became Mary’s treasure. And Mary’s treasure has changed the world for untold millions of people over the generations — including you now!

See how my word does not return to me void, but accomplishes the purpose for which I send it? My word bears fruit when you listen to it, treasure it, ponder over it, and share it with others. My word transforms tedium into eternity. Yes, like the shepherds you need to be on the watch, looking and listening for me. And when you hear my voice you need to hurry to draw near to Christ.

If you don’t hurry to obey my word then my kingdom will suffer loss. You and many other people in your circle of influence will miss out on what I am saying and doing. Look at what I have done through Soul Shepherding in the two-and-a-half years since you obeyed me and launched this ministry. In that case, you didn’t hurry to obey me but later you did act with me and great good has come to you and to many, many pastors, leaders, and others and it all has come in response to you and Kristi treasuring Jesus.

This lesson applies to all the messages I send to you, whether you think they are big or small. If you listen and obey my word great good comes to you and those you touch. If you don’t hurry to behold Christ as the greatest treasure and share him with everyone you can then my kingdom suffers harm.

For instance, when you read a passage in the Bible you ought to hurry to Christ. Or when you sense me speaking to your heart you ought to hurry to make space to listen and write down what you hear. Or when I prompt you to step out of your comfort zone by reaching out with my love to someone you ought to do it.

When you don’t do this it might seem like a small thing to you, but it’s not. It means you have not treasured Christ and over time many people, more than you can count, will miss out on this treasure.