One of the things that have always puzzled me about the Christmas story is the part about the shepherds. Why, of all the people in Judea, did the angels come and announce the birth of Christ to a few shepherds? To me, it just seemed so random. Was it because they were humble? Was it because they were wiser-than-average? Were they some of the very few who were righteous enough to be visited by angels?
Further delving revealed some things I had not known about these particular shepherds. According to Elder Bruce R. McConkie “there were many shepherds in Palestine, but only to those who watched over the temple flocks did the herald angels come.” These were, apparently, shepherds over the animals that were “destined for sacrifice on the great altar in the Lord’s House.” (McConkie, 1979) They were the Lord’s sheep…so these must have been the Lord’s shepherds.
And the place where the angel appeared to the shepherds is traditionally known as the “Tower of the Flock,” a kind of watchtower which is still standing today very near Bethlehem. The watchtower had been used by shepherds since ancient times for protection from enemies and wild beasts. (Edersheim, Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah)
I have come to be amazed at how much of the story of Christ’s birth is designed to be meaningful. There seems to be nothing left to chance because every object and event connected with Christ is orchestrated to teach. With this in mind, when I heard the familiar story about the shepherds this year, I realized something for the first time. The shepherds, in a way, are us. They point our minds to you and to me and our role in the Lord’s work.
For a minute, I want you to visualize yourself as one of these Christmas shepherds…Let’s set the stage where the story happens. In Luke 2 it says that these were “shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.” The field, like in others of Christ’s parables, is the world, where we currently abide. As covenant members of the House of Israel we are keeping watch over the Lord’s sheep, our brothers and sisters... and it. is. night. It is a spiritual night of confusing darkness in this field, at this time, and there are enemies and wild beasts abroad in the land.
Then it says “the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them…” How have we been called by a heavenly voice? D&C 1:38 reminds us: “Whether by mine own voice or the voice of my servants, it is the same.” We have an inspired prophet, apostles, stake president, bishop, Relief Society president, and… anyone who has been given the gift of the Holy Ghost has access to that heavenly voice. And the glory of the Lord DOES shine round about us. We can feel it especially in the power of the ordinances of the gospel.
Next the angel says to the shepherds, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” If these tidings are to all people, why doesn’t the angel just appear to all people? Well, because it is to fall on the believing, faithful shepherds to take the message and make it “known abroad.” The Lord will not do for mankind what we can do for ourselves, and thereby grow in the process.
The angel then tells the shepherds how to find the Christ-child, and how to recognize him. These humble men saw a glimpse into heaven when the multitude of “heavenly host” appeared saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
Then, after the message is concluded and they have received their errand…they go with haste – no earthly concerns delay them in seeking after the Savior of men. They find Jesus right where the messenger said he would be, and after they have found Him, they make what was told to them known abroad.
I love the conclusion of the shepherd’s story. Vs. 18: “And all they that heard it WONDERED at those things which were told them by the shepherds.”
Why did God make a special point to tell the shepherds? It’s because He always tells His shepherds - they who are stationed at the watch tower watching and listening; they who care for His sheep.
Now, every time I hear the story of the shepherds, I am reminded that I, too, as a committed disciple of the Good Shepherd, am tasked with heeding the heavenly voice, seeking Jesus Christ, finding Him and then spreading His message abroad.
What think ye?
McConkie, Bruce R., The Mortal Messiah, Deseret Book Co., 1979, p. 347