Shepherds and the Dilemma of Joy – 181225


Through Advent we have looked at many of the characters that surrounded baby Jesus and the nativity story of so long ago.

We look at them not just as interested spectators but at how their problems or dilemmas were addressed and what that might mean for us today, as we wrestle with this thing called faith.

For Mary and Joseph – their dilemma was whether to say ‘Yes’ to God and take this huge leap of faith and bring into the world and nurture the son of God – the King of Kings.

47a53b503cd4d231209e04bf0acacbab--christmas-nativity-stained-glassThey both had to overcome their doubts.

For the Wise Men, their dilemma was whether to follow the orders of a man or the signs from God.

For the Innkeeper, it was about understanding the significance of what was happening under his very roof, and then trying to believe this event was of God’s doing.


Aren’t these universal problems for us even, from time to time? When is it that we are asked to swim against the current, to advocate for another – even at great cost to ourselves, and to believe in something, in someone who will take us beyond ourselves?

And so it was for the shepherds who watched their flocks, when they were visited by the angels and came to Bethlehem to worship the one who became a vulnerable human child,

yet had already created them and the whole universe.

Their dilemma was whether to feel fearful of, or even unworthy of being included in the events of that night or instead to embrace it fully, in joy.


The words from Luke’s gospel say that when the Angel of the Lord appeared before them, to proclaim ‘I bring you good news of great joy’, they were ‘filled with great feat’ – not awe – but great fear – for the Angel said, ‘Fear Not’.

If it was you or me – certainly we might think ‘Why make me the first to hear the Good News?’ Surely a King or Prince or Prime Minister or a great person of wisdom or theologian or Priest would be more appropriate. Wouldn’t they?

In the Biblical case – the shepherds must have been thinking the same thing?

Shepherding was not a noble career option.

Firstly, sheep are not cute and cuddly, like this one (Show Sheep). They are smelly, sometimes fly blown, full of burrs and sometimes difficult to wrangle and it can be hard to keep them safe from predators.

It is often a lonely, dirty and dangerous job, which sees one exposed to the elements and ailments of the times and seasons.

It was more than likely the most minimum of the minimum wage jobs of that day.

They were outsiders – they, like us, would feel unworthy of God’s amazing grace.

There are two things that they and we should understand.

Firstly as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:29-31

28 God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong, God chose what is low and despised in the world 29 so that no one might boast in the presence of God.

Secondly, as the Angel says to the Shepherds –

I am bringing the Good News for all the people’ (verse 10).

The original Greek of ‘for all people’ was ‘pante toelao’ – and it literally means everyone in every nation – encompassing and not excluding and not creating barriers or borders.

They, and we, have suddenly gone from being outsiders to insiders. They get it – for when the Angel leaves them ‘in haste’ they leave the sheep, they go to Bethlehem, they share what has happened to them with Mary and they worship the baby Jesus.

Shepherds are silhouetted against a full starry night sky.

Paralysing fear has been resolved through action and a new joyous outlook.

The resolution to our fear and our sense of unworthiness and our doubt, is not to remain stuck there – in the wilderness but to move forward in expectant joy of what God will do in, and through us.

You see, nobody gets left out of this joyous news that leads to salvation, yielding abundant life which the angel of the Lord proclaimed.

May we receive, not only this eternity altering gift of joy and grace from God, but may we also share and spread this Good News with all we come into contact with in our lives.

That’ what the shepherds did. It’s what we can do this Christmas.

May our only dilemma be – with whom will we share this joyous news first?



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