My inspiration today comes from the sermon at church. Very little of my material in this blog is original. If I am being perfectly candid, none of it is. After all, there is nothing new under the sun!
The sermon today was on the shepherds who left their fields in response to the message they received from an angel to seek out and visit the Christ child who was born near them in a manger used to feed animals. If we are tempted to think that the purpose of this story in Luke’s Gospel is the miraculous appearance of an angel to these shepherds, I believe we would be wrong.
The story of the shepherds follows right on the heels of the story of Joseph and Mary traveling to Joseph’s ancestral home, Bethlehem, for a census that was being taken. While they were there, Mary gave birth to Jesus. Luke concludes that story with this seemingly insignificant statement:
“Then she gave birth to her firstborn son, and she wrapped him tightly in cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them”.
We have the wrong picture in our heads if we are imagining a guest room in an inn. Mary and Joseph went to Joseph’s ancestral community where his family was gathering from wherever they were scattered. They may not have known their extended family members well, but they likely stayed in one of their homes.
The guest room in the home would have been upstairs, and it was already taken by the time they arrived, so they were forced to stay on the ground floor of the home with the animals. The manger was a food trough. Their accommodations were not the least bit inviting.
The smell of animal dung, urine, and straw hung in the darkness of the cold, dank air. The animals slept or chewed their cud. There was no fanfare for God who was had just entered His own creation in the humblest of circumstances.
Meanwhile, an angel suddenly stood before a watchful group of shepherds in the outlying hills of Bethlehem. The abrupt apparition broke the silence like lightning from the sky. They were alarmed, but the angel calmed them. “Do not be afraid”, the angel said.
“Look, I proclaim to you good news that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord.”
The angel added the instruction that they would find a sign: a baby wrapped tightly in cloth, laying in a manger. (Luke 2:13) Nothing seems special about this sign. A little unusual, maybe, that the child would have no other place to lay. Perhaps, though, the shepherds heard echoes of these words in the angel’s statement:
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
Isaiah 7: 14
An inkling from the Prophet Isaiah may have just dawned on them when “a multitude of heavenly host” appeared with the angel praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest heave, and peace on earth to people he favors.”
They were moved. The angel encouraged them to “look” for themselves, and they didn’t hesitate. They decided among themselves “to go see”. (Luke 2:15)
We might be tempted gloss over the scene and fail to consider their circumstances. They were shepherds, and their job was to watch over the sheep. Sheep are prone to wander off. Even if they don’t stray, they are sitting ducks for large predators like lions, wolves and bears. Guarding the sheep was their livelihood.
The shepherds risked losing the sheep to leave them. They risked the sheep wandering off or being attacked if they left them. They risked losing their jobs.
The shepherds were menial laborers, dispensable and easily replaceable, but when the angel encouraged them to go see, they didn’t hesitate. They responded and went.
The word, “see”, is emphasized in this passage. They responded and saw for themselves. They experienced God for themselves. They didn’t just listen and ponder; they went and saw for themselves.
As I reflect on this, I note that they might have missed the Messiah if they didn’t respond right away. It occurs to that, when God prompts us, perhaps not as dramatically, how we respond is critical. Whether we respond at all, and how promptly we respond, may be a matter of whether we encounter God… or not.
“Taste and see!” is the admonition from David, the man after God’s heart. (Psalm 34:8) The angel encouraged the shepherds, “Go and look for yourself!”
It’s one thing for us to consider God intellectually. It’s another thing altogether to encounter him personally. The angels didn’t encourage the shepherds to sit there and think about it; they encouraged the shepherds to get up and go see!
Faith is active, not passive. Faith involves responding to the prompting of God.
In the same way, we are we are invited to seek God! Sometimes, God prompts us. Sometimes, He provokes us. Sometimes, He knocks on our door. Sometimes He speaks to us in a still, small voice.
Faith is active, not passive. Faith involves responding to the prompting of God.
As I look back on my life, I can see times and places God has prompted me, provoked me, knocked on my door, and I responded. Those times stand out in my memories because I responded. I doubt they would have had an impact on me if I had not responded to those prompts
I wonder also: How many times has God nudged me, and I didn’t respond?
Why don’t we respond?
Perhaps, we are preoccupied, and we don’t notice. Maybe it isn’t what we are expecting. We are busy in the moment, preoccupied with our past, or the present, or thinking about the future, and we aren’t paying attention.
Maybe we do notice, and we wonder for a second, but then we shrug it off. Perhaps, we notice, and we consider responding, but we know the response may cost us something. We don’t want to stop what we are doing; we don’t want to risk losing what we have; and the cost seems to high.
The shepherds couldn’t shrug off the angel, but they were certainly concerned about the risk of losing the sheep. They knew well what happens to sheep left unguarded. They had to make a quick choice.
Today, the pastor challenged us: “If you won’t leave what you’re guarding to see what God is doing, then what you are guarding is your god.”
Back to the story…
The angel told the shepherds, “I bring you good news [the Gospel] that will bring great joy to all people: the Messiah has been born today!” (Luke 2:10-12) The angel told them the baby Messiah would be recognized by certain signs, and the shepherds should go and see for themselves.
God does the same thing with us. The Good news that came into the world through Jesus in those days when Luke wrote his Gospel account is with us today. God has entered our world, and He desires for you to encounter Him!
Of course, the Old Testament is full of signs of the Messiah who was to come. The birth of the Christ child was the culmination of centuries of expectation. I believe, however, that God works the same way in our lives today, albeit (perhaps) in less dramatic fashion.
If we want to encounter God, we need to pay attention to the signs, and we need to respond. We need to see for ourselves. No thinking about God takes the place of experiencing God.
Look back at the signposts in your life. God left signposts throughout history, and He leaves signposts for us. Personal breadcrumbs that will lead us intimately and personally to the Lover of our souls, the God who made us and desires us to know Him.
The signs help us recognize the savior, but the signs are not enough in themselves. We don’t encounter what God is doing and what He wants to show us if we don’t leave what we are doing “to go see”. When we are too busy with the common things, we can fall to recognize God in our own lives.
When we fail to respond to God and “go see” because we might risk losing something important in the moment, we risk missing what God has for us.
When we do respond, however, we experience God, and our experience with God changes us. Those subtle promptings I look back on in my life, the ones I responded to, they led me to where I am today in Christ. They changed me because I responded
We must be willing to walk away from what we are doing – from our jobs, from our treasures, from our desires, from our hopes – to experience God. We must be willing to walk away from the things we value and find important and put them at risk to see what God wants us to see.
The story of the shepherds comes immediately after the story of Mary and Jesus finding no one to give them a room, but for the ground floor with the animals. Let us not be like the people who failed to recognize God in their midst.
Let every heart prepare Him room! Even if it means risking the loss of the things we love in this world.
Oh God, that we may have hearts that respond to You! That we may have hearts that make room for You!
 The sermon was presented by Kevin Pruitt at Ginger Creek Community Church, 2850 Ginger Woods Pkwy, Aurora, IL 60504, this December 18, 2022.
 “In the same region, shepherds were staying out in the fields and keeping watch at night over their flock. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger.’ Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people he favors! When the angels had left them and returned to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.’ They hurried off and found both Mary and Joseph, and the baby who was lying in the manger…. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had seen and heard, which were just as they had been told.” Luke 2:8-16, 20 CSB
 ““Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” Matthew 7:7-8
 “Look! I stand at the door and knock. If you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in, and we will share a meal together as friends.” (Revelation 3:20)