The First Christmas, Part 1

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

As we enter into the last week before Christmas, we at Books & Such want to step away from talking about the publishing biz and instead concentrate on that first Christmas, which changed everything thereafter (resulting in the designations, B.C.  and A.D). We’ll officially resume with all things publishing on January 2.

Our plan is for each agent to ponder with you some aspect of Christ’s birth. I selected the shepherds because they were people of no special note, going about their jobs with no sense that this night would be different from any other.How often God steals up on us when we least expect him.

These were night watchmen, assigned to oversee the sheep whom some scholars believe were designated to be sacrificed at the temple (because the shepherds were camped out near Bethlehem). The shepherds were to make sure no injury befell the sheep and that they weren’t stolen or preyed upon by wild animals.

While the job was important–and could be dangerous–it was boring. What could be harder than to remain alert throughout the quiet of the night?

This night angels appeared in all their glory, shattering not only the dark but also bursting into song. Can you imagine being startled out of a somnolent state of lethargy by “floodlights” and song?

Luke tells us that the men were terrified. Their shepherd hooks would be of little defense from such an attack. But they must have realized quickly that neither they nor the sheep were in danger.

As the angels explained why they had burst on the pastoral scene, the shepherds received the news with exuberance, joy and action. They rushed off to Bethlehem to see this baby in a manger. And they found him, just as the angels had said.

After seeing the newborn (we all love rushing up to the hospital for a first look at new family members, don’t we?), the shepherds did just what we would do: “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.” We spread the good news of recent births via cell phones and Facebook, but the shepherds rushed off on foot to report the night’s astounding and life-changing news.

By the way, did it ever occur to you to wonder who they told? I mean, it was night when the angels made their appearance. Maybe by the time the shepherds had raced into Bethlehem and found the child (how did they manage that, by the way, except by checking out stable after stable?) day was dawning. We know that Bethlehem was straining at the seams with all who had arrived for the census so there would be no lack of people stirring early in the day.

After delivering the grand news to as many others as they encountered, “the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.”

Back to the flocks they went, their watch apparently not yet over. Imagine how transformed they were from the sleepy shepherds who were aroused by a chorus of angels with a grand announcement, to the deliverers of the greatest tidings ever–not just the birth of a baby but the birth of Christ, the Lord, our Savior. Talk about life-changing. Don’t you know that those men recounted that night to others for the rest of their lives?

May we respond the same.

While the Gospel of Luke tells the story of Jesus’ birth with considerable detail, the other gospels offer little by way of a birth announcement. Yet Matthew writes this about Jesus’ entrance into the world: “But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah, for out of you will come a ruler who will be shepherd of my people Israel.” We, like the sheep on Christmas night, need to be guided, guarded, watched over, and protected, if necessary, with the Shepherd’s very life. As the  angels proclaimed that night, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests.”

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33 Comments

  • Tari Faris says:

    Beautifully written. Although I have read that story numerous times, I never cease to be amazed and humbled. Just last night, God was reminding me that He is my shepherd and will take care of me. This was just what I needed to wake up to and start my day.
    Although I always find the Books and Such Blog helpful I am really looking forward to the next couple weeks of focusing on the best story ever told with you.

  • Jeanne T says:

    Janet, I love your perspective on the shepherds. As I read your post, I thought about the angels showing up in the dark. It must have been amazing to see their bright, glorious light in the night sky. How different it would have been had they arrived in the daytime. So much to learn from the shepherds and their exuberant hearts. May my heart be quick to rejoice as I remember Jesus’ birth and all it means for me, and may I be as quick to share wtih others about the amazing gift He brings, that began on that cold night He was born.
    Merry Christmas, Janet!

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      I love the light-in-the-dark metaphor of the angels’ appearance. I don’t think I’d really considered that until I wrote this post. It was a wonderful meditative experience for me.

  • Janet, I read this and imagined my beloved Quechua shepherds on a hill, in the dark with nothing but the sounds of the stars twinkling and sheep sleeping. Then, BAM!! A sky full of angels!! Song and light everywhere, the sight must have been terrifying.
    But at least my Quechua friends have some idea of the outside world. Not so much 2000 years ago.

    “Do not be afraid, for we bring tidings of great joy.”
    “Dude, you’re all FLYING! Why should we calm down? And how come you speak Hebrew? Wait a minute? Do the Romans know you’re here? Ohhh no!Did…did you say a SAVIOUR? You mean? NOW? HERE?? Shouldn’t you tell the Chief priests instead of us? What do you mean ‘to ALL men’? And which manger? Guys, let’s go! The angels said the sheep will be fine! Finally,our king is born, we need to go tell everyone!”

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      I can’t imagine how displaced and unsure of themselves the shepherds felt. I love that God didn’t send the proclamation to the high priests or the king but instead to the lowly shepherds.

  • Great post, Janet! I look forward to the rest of the week. Your family is in my prayers.

    Merry Christmas!
    Morgan

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Thanks for your prayers, Morgan. This certainly is the most challenging Christmas I’ve ever faced. I’m taking the angels’ advice not to be terrified–although heart-weary would be a better description.

      • Janet, please know that you will be especially in my prayers this Christmas. I haven’t lost a spouse but I have lost parents and the first Christmas can be challenging. I will ask God to hold you in His loving embrace throughout this holiday season and to let you feel the comfort of your husband’s presence with you.

        Blessings, Christine

  • Leia Brown says:

    I spent almost 13 years in West Africa, and like Jennifer, my mind went immediately to that simpler world. But unlike the Quechua, the people we worked with didn’t shepherd their sheep. They just let them mix with the goats, chickens, ducks, dogs and occasionally cows that meandered wherever they pleased. That made for interesting driving, especially for a woman who was just mastering a stick shift! And West African sheep aren’t the fluffy sort of greeting-card sheep. They are short haired and look an awfully lot like goats. So, once, while my husband and I sat in our truck in the middle of a dirt road waiting for a herd of reluctant livestock to decide to move, I asked him how to tell a sheep from a goat. “That’s easy,” he said. “The goats are the ones who are smart enough to get out of the road!” Of course, there were other ways to tell them apart, too. Goat ears point up. Sheep ears point down. And without fail, in all my years in West Africa, it was the floppy-eared animals that walked obliviously in front of my truck. How appropriate that God chose the clueless animals to compare us to! How desperately we need a shepherd, to guide us away from oncoming danger. How beautiful that God chose real-life shepherds for the birth announcement of the Shepherd of our Souls.

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Thanks for this glimpse into West Africa, Leia. Sheep do seem to be lower in the intelligence chain than many animals. I think that means God has our number. No faking that we get it with him.

  • Lori says:

    Janet,

    I enjoyed your perspective on sheep and shepherds.

    When I was in Devon, England in 1990 I never saw so many sheep walking around the moors like I did then. I kept looking for the shepherds (or at least one shepherd) but alas I don’t remember seeing any.

    Merry Christmas!

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Perhaps the English sheep are more polite and stay where they belong?…Nah, they are a-wanderin’ animal.
      I saw lots of sheep in Ireland, and certainly a dog and a shepherd for each flock.

      • Lori says:

        Nope, don’t remember seeing any dogs herding sheep either. And of course there was definitly no pig herding either. (That I would rememeber!)

      • This made me smile. Our neighbour’s sheepdog actually herded 5 pre-schoolers into the corner of her fenced-in backyard during their Mom’s morning. He sat there all, “you’re welcome”. The kids were mildly confused but otherwise quite content.

      • Actually Janet sheep on the moors are usually ‘hefted’. That means that if they are new to an area, the shepherd lets them out of the pen to wander over a restricted area during the day but rounds them up at night. After quite a short time the sheep are used to ‘their’territory and stay within it, without any help from the shepherd

    • Janet Grant Janet Grant says:

      Thanks for your insight, Marion, O ye from the the other side of the pond. That would explain why I saw the sheep dogs and shepherd only when the sheep were actually being moved either in the morning or the evening.

  • Thank you for sharing this beautiful and insightful reflection, Janet. I love the story of the shepherds because they were considered the “marginalized”–marginalized by society, but not by God.

    It’s funny that you should write about this today. On the way home, I was singing “Little Drummer Boy” to myself in the car. That story of offering your gifts and talents to God always touches me to tears, especially the line, “…and then He smiled at me.” Oh, to give God joy! I know it’s not a scriptural story but I can imagine the little drummer boy being among the people the shepherds shared the Good News with. And I imagine that, even though it was night, that there were people to tell the news to. Bethlehem was thronging with people. Many were probably still awake–and some were likely awakened by the shepherds. They had just heard that the Messiah had been born; I’m sure they were rejoicing loudly! What I can’t imagine is what it was like for them when they entered the stable and encountered God-With-Us. I’m sure that they did recount the story of that night over and over throughout their lives, but I wonder if there was anyway to put their experience of being in the presence of God into words.

    I wish you a joyful and blessed Christmas and a peace-filled New Year.

  • I love that God chose who society considered to be the lowest of the low for that incredible scene. Terrific post, Janet, and have a wonderful and blessed Christmas!

  • I love this idea. Great.

    I had never before considered how this would affect them the rest of their lives. They saw angelic hosts and heard heaven’s choir. How can you put that into words? They saw the Savior of the world! To their dying day, they would tell the story over and over again.

    Shepherds. Lowly shepherds. I’m so glad.

    Thanks for the insight.

  • What a lovely post, Janet. I have to admit to being especially enchanted by this aspect of the Christmas story. Perhaps that’s why my first children’s book is about them. What an amazing experience this must have been for those shepherds.

    Thank you for sharing such an inspiring post. After what happened on Friday at Sandy Hook Elementary, I sure could use the boost.

  • Dale Rogers says:

    Beautiful, Janet! Thank you for reminding us what Christmas is about.

  • Stephanie M. says:

    Janet,
    What a wonderful idea for Christmas! It’s nice to be able to reflect on God’s word, esp. now when so many people are in pain. I remember I saw my first real shepherd when I was stationed in Iraq. He looked just like the pictures- a lone white figure in a field of brown. It reminded me who I was and where I came from, and I thought what the *!*# am I doing here??? Then I thought, even when we are totally alone, we are never alone. We always have the comfort of God’s grace.

  • Jody says:

    Thank you for taking a break from business and helping us remember Jesus. May He be your Shepherd during this holiday season.

  • Kiersti says:

    How lovely–thank you, Janet. I’ll look forward to the rest of this series. :)

  • I can imagine the shepherds, in the days after seeing Jesus, sharing with others about the wonder of that night. Not taking any of the glory on themselves, but pointing their weathered hooks at the Christ child.

    Janet, praying that you’re surrounded this Christmas by family and friends who allow you to weep when you need to, reminisce when you can’t hold back, and encourage you to have hope for a heavenly celebration with your husband in the future.

  • Jan Thompson says:

    Thank you very much for the article! Merry Christmas!

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