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Luke 2:8-21: The Shepherds
In these verses some very unexpected people are "let in" on the news of Jesusí birth and they come to pay homage.

Verse 8: Shepherds in the field

In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.

Some notes on this verse:

People chose December 25th as the date of Jesusí birth many years later and for reasons that werenít just about trying to find the exact day. That shepherds were "in the fields" with their flocks provides a clue about what time of year this was since they donít spend the entire year out in the field. Unfortunately, nobody can really agree on what time in the year it was.

Do you picture this scene as cold, maybe even with snow wrapping the hills? Remember, this isnít North America! Itís much closer to the equator and much warmer.

Luke has now brought us to the opposite extreme from the powerful emperor in his palace in an important city: we are with poor shepherds, living out in the open, in a remote, poor corner at the end of the empire. Notice how swiftly and effortlessly he has done this.

Why tell us about the shepherds? Perhaps it is just that they are poor, ordinary folk. On the other hand, one of the titles of the king is to be "shepherd" of the nation. Indeed, when David appears in the Bible for the very first time (at 1 Samuel 16.11), he is shown being (literally) a shepherd. Perhaps Luke wants us to start thinking of Jesus, a descendent of King David, as a shepherd as well.


Verses 9-14: Angels appear to the Shepherds

Some notes on these verses:

The power of God was expected to be seen in the temple in Jerusalem, not out in a field. Just as some changes are in store for the Roman Empire, Jesus will not be exactly the sort of Messiah that Jewish people were expecting.

"The Glory of the Lord" is one of the ways that the Old Testament describes Godís appearance, or what people can actually comprehend of Godís appearance. See, for example: Exodus 16.7-10, 24.16-17 and 40.34-35, Numbers 14.10, Isaiah 35.2 and Ezekiel 1.28.

"good news" The English word "gospel" is taken directly from a Greek word that literally meant "good news."

"everyone" Twice, we are told that Jesus is for everyone, not just one specific group of people.

Notice the titles given to Jesus in these verses: Savior, Christ, the Lord. Sometimes human kings took on these titles (even "savior"). Again, Luke is telling us who the real savior is. The title savior is not used very often in the gospels, only three times in Luke (1.47, 1.69, 2.11) and once in John (4.42). Christ (translation of the Hebrew word "Messiah") means "the anointed one." In the Old Testament, kings, and sometimes prophets, were anointed. This signified that they were legitimate, approved of by God and commissioned by God.


Verses 15-18: The Shepherds visit the baby Jesus

When the angels had left hem 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.

Some notes on these verses:

Both shepherds and Mary and Joseph have their hopes confirmed. The shepherds find it as they were told it would be, confirming the vision they saw, and confirming that the vision really came from God. Mary and Joseph have unexpected visitors who confirm that their child is special in the purpose of God.

Everyone listened. We tend to imagine this story as only containing the particular people that are named. But, this is a small town, and a society based on close family links. It would not be surprising if there were others in the barn, or that the shepherds had relatives in Bethlehem. "Everyone" may mean the village or part of the village.


Verses 19-21: The days after the birth

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. (2:19-21, NRSV)

Some notes on these verses:

What is Mary thinking about? She has been told by an angel her baby will be conceived miraculously and that the child will be important. But she doesnít know exactly what Godís plans are. The way Jesus that was a savior was not exactly what people were expecting. Even Mary wonders what the future will bring.

Eight days later Jesus was circumcised as commanded for Jewish males in Genesis 17.10-14.

Joseph and Mary are shown being obedient to Jewish law and to the special commands the angel gave to them.

Last updated 12/11/00; © 2000 John P. Nordin