How do you respond to God speaking? How do you respond to His good news? Have you heard it all before? Does it lead to a deeper friendship or pursuit of Him? Does it transform your life? Does it hit your heart but never impact your actions?
The Christmas story is great because it has so many intertwining stories of people who responded to God’s good news. Spanning a few years, we have a pregnant teenager giving birth to the Saviour of the world in the dirt of a cave, and her humble husband who responds well to angels appearing to him in dreams – despite the social consequences of sticking with Mary. We have some wise men who like looking at stars so much that they are willing to travel from far off places to find this random but important baby and we have some dedicated ordinary folk who protect and take care of the needs of their sheep day after day (more about them in a minute). What a bunch! Each of them, in different ways, respond to the voice of God. Whether it was angels or stars, each had the opportunity to respond and they choose to do that, no matter the sacrifice.
In the modern times it is so easy to disconnect from the reality of what a special, unusual and therefore powerful story this is! We have to go further than the overfamiliar stories and the cute nativities. We have to see the gritty reality of the story of the Creator of the whole universe, who comes and dwells among us – He is the child born to die so that we could live! Read the story! Let’s cut through the lie that says that we cannot learn anything from stories or teaching we have heard before. What’s your response to the good news? There is always an opportunity to respond! What does God want to say to you through the different characters? What’s your response this Christmas?
I want to specifically look at the response of the shepherds. Much has been said and written about the shepherds as this is a well-told tale, but I believe there’s something to learn here that can help us grow in responding when God speaks. Why were the shepherds chosen to hear this good news? This is something that I have been pondering. They were not considered to be that important, they slept in the hills and they were the type of men who could fend off attacks from wild animals. Oh, and if your main company is with animals and men, then you probably aren’t the cleanest human being ever! But this particular group of shepherds listened to the good news. When the angel shows up they are terrified (this is a natural and acceptable response to seeing such amazing glory). However, they listen to the message. They allow the good news of Jesus’ birth to have an impact on every dimension of their lives. This is important for us: the good news of Jesus’ birth has to have an impact on every dimension of our lives. We’re not just celebrating a birthday at Christmas. We’re celebrating God coming down to us, to live as us and to ultimately die to save us.
The Shepherd’s Response
There are three dimensions to the shepherd’s response after hearing the message from the angel and then seeing the whole heavenly host praising God in the sky. You can read about all of this in Luke 2:8-20.
- Respond together – this is not a one man task! The shepherds were in it together. They looked after their sheep in a group. When they hear the news, the shepherds talk about it together (“The shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened'”) and then go on the adventure to find the baby together (“So they hurried off”). In the same way, when we hear the voice of God, we’re not called to follow the good news by ourselves but we must go on the adventure together! Find other people who have heard and listened to God and discover more of the “good news that will cause great joy for all the people” together!
- Spread the news – the shepherds could not contain what they had seen! After they had found Mary, Joseph and the new baby, “they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child”. The shepherds recognised that the good news was not something to keep to themselves, but something that needed to be heard by others. Not everyone has a field full of angels show up in the night! They heard from the angel that the message was for “all the people” and so they ran around and told everyone about it! God is still doing good things today. His good news is still good! When He does something good in your life, tell other people! Good news is for sharing!
- Worship God – “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.” Hearing good news has to point you back towards the Father. Seeing all that He had done resulted in the shepherds worshipping Him. We need to do the same – when we hear His good news, let’s learn to respond in overflowing thankfulness and praise. Let’s give Him the glory He deserves. Let’s not allow the message to become stale and over-familiar. Let’s not forget just how amazing the good news is! I don’t want to be indifferent to His love and all that He has done!
The shepherds had a three-dimensional response to the good news! When you hear the good news, whatever that news looks like in your life, make sure you choose to respond in a similar way! I think there’s a triangle in this somewhere…
- How are you responding to His good news today? What part of the good news do you need to hear today?
- How is His good news leading you to overflow with praise and thankfulness? How is it leading you into deeper relationship with Him?
- Who do you need to respond with? Where is your community/family that you can join together and respond with?
- Who do you need to tell about His good news?