24th December

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. (Luke 2:16-18)

True to their word and calling, the shepherds make haste for Bethlehem. Locating Jesus might have taken a bit of search-work first, but they managed to track him down. As promised in v.12, there he was, lying in the manger (v.16). Luke repeats this for effect – how curious that the Messiah should be born in such humble conditions!

Despite its greater linguistic complexity and sophistication, the Gospel of Luke is often viewed as the gospel with the most to say about the poor, and social justice more generally (cf. Luke 4:16-21). It is significant that the wise men (Magi) and Herod are nowhere to be seen in Luke’s account; they appear only in the Gospel of Matthew. Vice versa, there are no shepherds in Matthew. While the fulfilment of Scripture is patent in Luke, it is emphasised more markedly in Matthew with whole blocks of quotation from the Old Testament. The two gospel conceptions are very different: in broad terms, Matthew is more “Jewish”, Luke perhaps more “Gentile”. Such differences might lead us to question the validity of the accounts. They are just different perspectives though, with different aspects of the story highlighted in line with the gospel writer’s priorities. There is no reason to disbelieve that shepherds and Magi visited Jesus.

Nevertheless, Luke centres on the shepherds. God uses these shepherds as his first messengers of the gospel. The good news ripples out as in a game of “Chinese Whispers” but it is definitely spoken, even declared (v.17). Lots of people in Bethlehem hear this news and are amazed at what they hear (v.18) – probably both because of the content of the message and the conveyors of the message: some little-known, little-educated shepherds.

Here is another reminder in Luke that God speaks through all sorts of people, including the seemingly lowly, unknown, and unqualified. These shepherds have a simple faith that merits imitation: hearing the good news joyfully and hurrying to pass it on. Conversely, Herod and the experts in Jerusalem hear reports and are troubled (Matthew 2:3). Christ ultimately came to bring good news and not trouble.

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