“The Adoration of the Shepherds,” by Gerard van Honthorst.
From Luke 2 (NLT):
…And while they were there, the time came for her baby to be born. She gave birth to her first child, a son. She wrapped him snugly in strips of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no lodging available for them.
That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people….Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.”
This short passage is marked by two very different responses to the same event, the birth of Christ. The first is the very normal, perhaps even mundane reaction to the birth of a baby to poor parents: to clothe him in comforting cloth and find a bed for him in whatever is handy–an animal’s feeding trough. Mary and Joesph, probably deeply disappointed that they could not have their child at home in Nazareth, adapt and improvise as best they can. Despite the mean circumstances, this child of God lacks for nothing: Jesus has clothing, a bed, food a roof over his head, loving human parents. God has provided every good thing for Jesus.
Contrast this with what the shepherds get to witness–the breaking open of heaven itself! Hundreds, perhaps thousands of angels singing in celebration! There is a party going on in heaven and the shepherds have been invited to participate. They are filled with wonder and awe and it is that practically disbelieving wonder and awe that cause them to act on the “instructions” given to them–to seek out the child wrapped in bands of cloth lying in the manger.
The shepherds bridge the gap between the celebration in heaven (too deafening for a baby’s ears) and the quiet, unfamiliar strangeness of the barn, reconciling both at the manger where God’s Son lay. The celebration quiets but the awe continues as they see that exactly what the angels said is true. As they marvel, they bring the encouragement of God with them–Mary and Joesph are not forgotten, God has not cast out his Son. Everything is as it should be, Jesus, born to be humble, yet still inspiring awe and wonder.
As we celebrate the birth of Jesus the Christ, what is your perspective on the event? Are you weighed down by your circumstances, discouraged, wishing you could do better for your family? Or are you excited, rejoicing in with the angels, brimming with love and good old-fashioned Christmas cheer?
I pray as we enter Christmastide we minister to each other: encouraging the discouraged in their needed quiet, ministering joy to those working hard, or joining in the excited celebration of heaven. May we all meet together around the manager in whatever state we’re in and share in the love God’s Son, Jesus.