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So what have I learned new about Christmas? It has to do with the shepherds. Our pastor advised that they were more or less the lower class in Israel at the time of Jesus' birth but I needed to know more.
The first thing that came to me was the different ways God called people to the manger in Bethlehem. The wealthy wise men were given a star to follow - for several years, quite a journey. The impoverished shepherds have the message brought directly to them by God's angelic messenger and their journey was simply a walk across the town of Bethlehem. It reminds me of Matthew 19: 24, "Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God". Maybe being less than rich isn't so bad.
However, there is a great deal more to learn about the shepherds and their experience. Luke 2: 8-9 reads " there were in the same country shepherds, abiding in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night. And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them and the glory of the Lord shone round about them". The scripture tells us little of the individual shepherds themselves but is descriptive of their experience - "the glory of the Lord shone round about them". So what is this "glory of the Lord"?
"The glory of the Lord" is identified many times in the Old Testament but raely in the New Teatament. It often appears after a sacrifice in the tabernacle (Exodus 40: 34-35), after an offering for the sins of the people (Numbers 9: 6-23), and in the temple (II Chronicles 7:1-3). Sometimes it is described as a "cloud" (II Chronicles 5:14, Ezekiel 10:4). Isaiah, who wrote many centuries before the birth of Christ, predicted the day will come when "they shall see the 'glory of the Lord'" and, for the righteous, the glory of the Lord is "risen upon thee" (Isaiah 60:1). In Habakkuk 2:14 the prophet writes that the day will come when "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord".
So what does this teach us about the shepherds? Perhaps they were of an economically inferior class of people but the fact that God reveals the "glory of the Lord" to them suggests that an inner Godliness or righteousness was a part of their character. Though fearful, at first, they were ready to heed God's call to leave their sheep, their livelihood, behind to see the Christ child.
Jesus states in the sermon on the mount, "blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God". May we, like the shepherds, seek the same purity of heart (righteousness) as the shepherds which will allow us to "see God". In the days before Christ it was the "glory of the Lord" that the righteous perceived. In this day it is God's spirit in our hearts that indwells each of us who seek him.
This is the new thing I learned from the Christmas story this year. May we all experience the "glory of the Lord" through his Holy Spirit this coming year.