The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:20 NIV)
Do you think their lives were ever the same? Have you ever wondered what happened to the shepherds after they were hand-picked by God to receive the second greatest news in the history of mankind? “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord (Luke 2:10-11 KJV).” It makes me wonder what beheld those who were the first to verify the coming of the Messiah. The Scripture tells us, “So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them (Luke 2:16-18 NIV).” I wonder if they kept the proverbial stone rolling once the excitement had worn off and continued to proclaim what the angels had announced to them. Did they sit around the campfire and tell their children and children’s children about that night when they encountered Heavenly beings first-hand and then were ushered into that stable or cave or whatever cold, drafty, unfit accommodations for the King they traveled to see? Did any of the Shepherds traverse the less than 10 miles from Bethlehem to Jerusalem 30 years later upon hearing that the baby they saw wrapped in rags, was being anointed as King of the Jews, riding in the Holy City seated on a donkey? Did they hear about the baby, who became a man, who held all their hopes? Did they have their hopes dashed when learning of His brutal death? Did any of these, so far removed from the politico of Rome and Jewish hierarchy hear the rumors that the baby they had witnessed cooing had come to life, had risen from the dead? Did they, like Mary, treasure up all these things and ponder them in their heart? Did they suffer for their faith?
The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly what they did, but history tells us what many people have done after receiving the good news of Jesus Christ. We have significant evidence that many of the apostles and early Christians, were persecuted, exiled and/or executed for their faith, and we have absolute verification, reporting the never-ceasing persecution, exile and executions of Christians over the last 2,000 years since the shepherds were terrified by the Heavenly Host of angels and awestruck at the coming of the long-awaited Messiah.
Theologian and civil rights leader Howard Thurman once challenged his listeners with the following poetic admonition, “When the song of the angels is stilled, When the star in the sky is gone, When the kings and the princes are home, When the shepherds are back with their flock, The work of Christmas begins: To find the lost, To heal the broken, To feed the hungry, To release the prisoner, To rebuild the nations, To bring peace among brothers, To make music in the heart.” Social justice advocate Michael Dougherty updated Thurman’s poem with a slightly different appeal, “When the carols have been stilled, When the star-topped tree is taken down, When family and friends are gone home, When we are back to our schedules The work of Christmas begins…” He implores us to intervene on behalf of the persecuted and those fleeing from war-torn countries, to heal our broken planet, to build bridges of trust, to share our gifts, to seek justice and peace for all people, and to bring Christ’s light to the world.
For the true Christ follower, removing our Christmas tree and putting away our Nativity scenes, kneeling Santa and other decorations should remind us that the distractions of the holidays are over and the real work of Christmas begins. May our New Year’s resolution be, to proclaim the “greatest” news in the history of mankind – the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to be His hands, feet, voice and heart. May our New Year’s resolution be, to let Christmas begin!