Christmas: Shepherds and Angels
- Wonder how the shepherds felt when they saw the angels and heard the good news.
- Tell what this story shows about God.
- Share the Christmas story with others.
Anybody not know this story? That's a problem and an opportunity. You can tell this story close to Christmas, pointing to the good news in the midst of all the Christmas hoopla of Santa Claus, presents, and Christmas parties.
Why start with Caesar Augustus and Quirinius? Luke's first point in telling the story is to anchor it in time and history, which is his way of saying, "This is not a fairy tale, folks, God really did break into our world." And, of course, we understand what a family from Nazareth is doing in Bethlehem. And then there's "the city of David." Luke is directing us to a very important element of the story of God in the Bible. The reader is supposed to remember that great promise God made to David (2 Samuel 7) that his descendant would sit on the throne forever. God is fulfilling age-old promises, and the one to David is only one of those.
Strangely, the birth story is the shortest part. Jesus is born, wrapped in cloth, and laid in a manger. A what? That would be the first-time reader's response. There was no room in the inn, Luke explains. The Lord of glory is born into poverty; the Creator of all is laid in a cow feeding trough. There is no room for God's Son in the city of David.
As soon as the baby is born Luke turns our focus to the fields outside Bethlehem. Shepherds were in the field, watching their flocks. Why focus on shepherds when God had just arrived in Bethlehem? It was the city of David, the shepherd-king, but more important, shepherds were on the lower rungs of Jewish society in that time. You'd think an angelic birth announcement should go to Caesar's palace, or at least to the high priest in Jerusalem. No, Luke says, in ways already signaled by Mary's song in chapter 1, Jesus has come to save sinners, to be with the poor and lowly.
So the angels sing their glorious oratorio while the sleepy shepherds cringe in fright. While Caesar sleeps or parties and the high priest is clueless, the shepherds rush off to Bethlehem to see. What a scene! Scruffy shepherds peering in on this homeless couple and their baby wrapped in homespun cloth and lying in a manger.
Luke closes the story with two responses: Mary's pondering and the shepherds joyfully spreading the story. The story invites us to do both---to ponder the mystery of the Word become flesh, God with a belly button, and to sing with contagious joy about the Savior who has come to join the human race.
Do you imagine the innkeeper as mean and gruff, or concerned to do what he can?
Why does Luke spend so little time with Mary and Joseph and the birth?
What do you ponder as you read this story again?
Some children may say, “I’ve heard this story so many times!” Invite them to listen once more and identify something new for them in the story. That will challenge you to tell it even more interestingly.
Mary quietly “ponders” and the shepherds joyfully run and tell everyone. Encourage both kinds of responses in the children. Jesus’ birth is both an exciting event and one that invites a quiet, prayerful, wondering response.
This is a good time to emphasize that Jesus is God’s Son, but also fully human. Not to explain the mystery, but to grasp the reality of this very human, bawling infant with healthy bowels and hungry lips.
Before the session begins, hang a large piece of newsprint on the wall at the children’s eye level. Cut apart and color one set of ornaments for the Step 2 activity or simply cut them apart and have kids color them as they arrive (see Easy Extra 1).
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