That night there were shepherds staying in the fields near by, guarding their flocks of sheep. – Luke 2:8
I’ve been thinking about these shepherds lately and finding myself identifying with them. I picture them awake and alert, in the dark of night, guarding. Why are they awake and doing this when the rest of the world sleeps? Because they understood what lurked in the dark. They understood predators exist and danger is much closer then the sheep realize. Make no mistake, the reality of what the shepherd was is much different than what is portrayed in stained glass. They were rough, vigilant, capable of violence, and realists. To them, Christmas Eve was just another dark night.
I worked night shift as a police officer for a little over nine years straight, 6:00 PM – 6:00 AM. The night shift has a way of sharpening you, for a variety of reasons. But there is also something about that “late” night hour; the period of time way after midnight and well before dawn.
It seems to get darker, and stiller. But not peaceful. It’s different. It’s like you know there is always the potential for something bad to happen and there is a slight tenseness you constantly feel, waiting for dawn. It’s just you, your fellow officers, and whatever the dark holds in store for you. Everybody else is asleep. And most nights, time passes and night gives way to dawn, and all is well. But I can definitely say that some of the most harrowing and intense calls I ever answered, came during this time period.
Luke 2:9 starts with the word “suddenly.” I believe these shepherds were no stranger to the “suddenly” moments. I recall long hours of slow and quiet boredom while driving around, checking closed businesses. Then the “sudden” alert tone over the radio, followed by the dispatcher advising a shots-fired call or an armed robbery in progress. One second it’s calm, and then next your adrenaline is dumping and your “in it.”
A particular shift comes to mind. At about 4:45 AM I was in a booth at Huddle House talking with my partner, and less than five minutes later we were two miles away, on the floor of an apartment, in an all-out fight with a guy who was out of his mind on LSD and covered in his own blood. Suddenly, just like that, it happens.
The shepherds were no different. They endured the monotonous boredom but were prepared for the wolf’s sudden attack or the bandits’ sudden raid on their camp. And in the middle of Luke Chapter 2, there they were, in the dark of night, keeping watch.
Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. – Luke 2:9
This time, it was a different kind of “suddenly.”
“Suddenly,” light cut through the dark. “Suddenly”, a new hope was born. “Suddenly”, the world changed. I do not believe it was a coincidence that God chose to reveal the birth of Christ to a group of shepherds first. Jesus would one day refer Himself as “the Good Shepherd.” He would not only stand guard on our behalf, but there would come a day when He would go ahead of us, into the dark, by Himself. He would seek out the evil that lurks there, come face-to-face with Satan, and take back the keys to the grave.
But the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior – yes, the Messiah, the Lord – has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David.” – Luke 2:10-11
In a few days, we remember and celebrate when Christmas Eve gave way to Christmas Day. It represents the dawn, a dawn that never fades. Even in the darkest hours of our lives, the Good Shepherd is there for us.