Shepherds were not a particularly respected class of people in the ancient world. It is no small thing, then, that the birth of the Messiah is announced to them. In receiving this message of good news the shepherds had to believe that it was for them. The Christmas faith of the shepherds, then, accepts that God has a personal care even for the lowly.
The birth of the King of heaven into the world really does defy human expectation. John Calvin wrote:
It would have been to no purpose that Christ was born in Bethlehem, if it had not been made known to the world. But the method of doing so, which is described in Luke, appears to the view of men very unsuitable. First, Christ is revealed but to a few witnesses, and that too amidst the darkness of night. Again, though God had, at his command, many honourable and distinguished witnesses, he passes by them, and chose shepherds, persons of humble rank, and of no account among men. (Harmony of the Evangelists, 113)
That Jesus would be born in a stable, in obscurity, and without any pomp or circumstance does not coincide with the wisdom of men. That he should be revealed to shepherds is even more surprising, for they held no authority, influence, or power in the world. Their witness to Jesus would have meant exceedingly little to anyone else. Yet, consider how much it must have meant to them. In fact I think the intent of their invitation to come and see Jesus is to encourage our own surprise, joy, and invitation.
Luke’s account of the angelic appearance to the shepherds reveals a very crucial feature of the incarnation. We read:
9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:9-11)
This “good news” will be for “all people.” All people! Even lowly shepherds. Even social pariahs and outcasts. All people. People like the woman at the well, like lepers and tax collectors, like the woman who had a bleed for twelve years, like the demon possessed. This good news was for all people. The shepherds were the first of many surprising guests invited into the Messiah’s presence.
The angel doesn’t just generalize the invitation either. He more specifically says to the shepherds, “Unto you is born…a Savior.” The Savior is born to them personally. He is their savior. What shocking news this must have been. What a moving and powerful personal invitation had been offered. They are invited, welcomed, and encouraged to go and see Him. Look for the sign, they are told.
Christmas faith expresses the joyful acceptance that God is for us. The whole incarnation is a testimony to this, as God takes on flesh and enters our brokenness to rescue us. Yet, for some reason, many of us still struggle to believe that God could love us. We struggle to accept that grace is free. We struggle to trust that He really does care for us and want us. Christmas faith, however, is not merely mental ascent to the doctrines of God’s existence and Christ death and resurrection. Christmas faith is internalize and personal. It is the belief that such doctrines are good news for me personally. They are my good news. They belong to me. They are for me. This is true Christmas faith.
Some of us have a tendency to think it good and right to esteem our sinfulness as such a massive immorality that God cannot possibly forgive it. We think it honorable to beat ourselves up for past sins, to refuse grace, to work off our own debts so that we can come to God with clean hands and a clean heart. Such thoughts, however, are not noble. They are prideful and full of sin and self-reliance. They do not reflect the kind of humility and surrender that Christmas faith calls us to. The shepherds receive good news and they go “with haste” to Bethlehem. They do not sit and question how this message can be for them, they are just lowly shepherds. They do not take time to ready themselves, clean up, or revise their moral credit. No, they accept the invitation and they go with haste. This is Christmas faith.
Do you have this kind of faith; the kind of faith that believes in God’s personal love for you? Do you accept it? True Christmas faith believes that God can love even someone like me. It believes it and it runs with haste to the God of good news for all people.