One familiar feature of the Christmas story is the shepherds who receive firsthand information about the birth of Christ. The angel announces to them with joy, that the savior has been born in Bethlehem. As soon as the angel goes away, the shepherds say to themselves, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us” (Lk. 2:15). Together, they move in haste to see the infant Jesus in the manger with Mary and Joseph.
A few striking points in the action of the shepherds are worthy of brief reflection during this Christmas. The shepherds’ availability to the Lord’s voice is evident. Hearing the angel’s message and believing is an invitation to assess our choices in relation to the will of God, to not let our instincts override God’s voice in our actions. The shepherds listen to the angel. They are moved by what they hear. As a result, they reroute their plans to give preference to the Lord. What comes to mind here is the experience of David in the book of Samuel (2 Sam. 7: 1-16). David plans to build a house for the Lord, makes his budget in consultation with the prophet Nathan, “Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God dwells in a tent!” Nathan gives a positive response to King David, “Go, do whatever you have in mind, for the LORD is with you.” That same night, God speaks a contrary opinion to Nathan for David. The unpalatable news is that David is not the one intended by God to build a house for Him. Rather, it should be reserved for David’s heir. David’s plan completely changed in accordance with the divine plan. David is asked to reroute. Although the shepherds’ case is not as extreme as David’s, their willingness to hear God calling them to the mission of announcing the birth of Christ in the middle of their profession, something not originally planned, reveals their availability for God. They leave everything, go in haste to encounter the infant King. Does God speak to you or does your instincts or your desire override God’s plan? Are you able to reroute your course because God is inviting you to a different plan and purpose?
The next important point for consideration is the language of the shepherds. Having heard the angel, they say to one another, “Let us go, then” (Lk. 2:15). The language echoed here is an affirmation of the unity of intention and purpose. The language, “Let us” is theologically described as a divine language seen at creation, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness” (Gen. 1:26). The communion of the Trinity is portrayed right at the moment when God brought creation into being through the “Let us” language. The shepherds relive the Old Testament experience and launch us directly into the new creation in Christ Jesus. They create the pathway to the Messiah, the Newborn King.
By saying, “Let us go,” the shepherds exhibit a joy which points humanity to “Emmanuel, God is with us.” The shepherds teach us the importance of teamwork, unity, and purposefulness in life. Imagine if Christians spoke the language of “Let us.” The result will be obvious, “one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4-6). Imagine if families spoke one language whereby spouses, parents, and children unite in “Let us.” Family life will become inspiring and enduring in the face of challenges and ambition. Both parents and children will become instruments of love and forgiveness fighting the same battle in family life. On the world scene, imbibing the language of togetherness like the shepherds will be a positive gift at Christmas. Injustice, terrorism, and oppression may be fought successively. As a beacon of faith, the church will become a strong agent of hope and love if she embraces the language of togetherness in truth and justice. Through their language, the shepherds exude commitment, teach us to shun selfishness and rancor. Through it also, they visit the newborn child in haste. Togetherness produces positive results. Finally, the shepherds leave a positive impact on others. Scripture says, “All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds.”
The hallmark of Christ’s coming is unity embodied in the shepherds’ actions. Of note at 2020 Christmas is that the world still grapples with the growing challenges of the COVID, hence the need for unity has become more urgent for healthy spiritual, psychological, and physical wellness. The birth of Christ is the birth of newness, precisely what the prophet Isaiah foretold in ancient times, “The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent's food. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain," says the LORD” (Is. 65:25).
My message for this Christmas, at such a time when stubbornness and strangeness appear to be common phenomena, is that we emulate the shepherds’ action of working with one mind and one purpose, that we show affection, that we become less selfish in our desires. Affection grows families. Affection grows establishments and nations. Affection grows relationships. Let’s heed Saint Paul’s advice, “Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor” (Rom. 12:10). Remember the great saying, "If you want to walk fast then walk alone and if you want to walk far then walk together.” The shepherds walk together and are able to encounter Christ’s joy and peace in the manger. Today, their message is still strong and active.