Joy of the Shepherds.
“And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.” – Luke ii. 20.
In the history which the evangelist, Luke, gives us of the birth of our blessed Savior, we are told that, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had seen and heard.” It is in the twentieth verse of the second chapter.
The shepherds had been to Bethlehem to see the infant Redeemer, and returned to take care of their flocks.
They were happy men, those shepherds, and very good men too, we may be sure, or God would never have made them so happy. They were not learned men; for as they had to watch their flocks by night and by day, but little time was left them to read books. Yet they were better taught than even the wise men, (and these wise men were good men too,) who came from the East to find out where Christ was born. God Sent a star to show them the way; but he sent an angel, all bright with his own glory, to tell that the shepherds were pious men, who would be glad to hear that their Savior was born, and would go and worship him.
Herod was a very great king, and very rich. His palace was very fine with gold, and silver, and purple, and precious stones. All the people that stood about him, and waited on him, were dressed in very beautiful clothes, and no doubt he had a great many singers and players upon instruments, who made good music for him to hear. But he never saw such a splendid sight as these shepherds saw, when the glory of the great God, who made all the silver, and gold, and bright and precious things, shone around them. He never had a servant to wait upon him looking so beautifully as the messenger that came to them; for it was an angel of the Lord, all glittering with the brightness of heaven, who came to tell them that their Savior was born. And there never was such a concert heard on earth as the angels made over the hill-side for these humble men, singing the anthems which God loves to hear in heaven.
Yet we need not envy those shepherds: for if we love Jesus Christ, and believe what God has told us, we may be as happy as they were, and happier too. God has given us the Bible to tell us all, and a great deal more, than the angels told them: and, besides, he sends his Holy Spirit to make us understand, if we are willing to be taught, all that he has said. We cannot go to Bethlehem and see the Savior there, a little babe, because long since he grew up to be a man; and having obeyed God’s law for us, died for our sins, and went up again into heaven, where he now reigns our blessed and holy King. But if we give our hearts to him, and trust him as our Savior, it is better than if we saw him on earth. For once, when the apostle Thomas worshipped him as his Lord and his God, because he saw him and touched him after he had risen from the dead, the Savior said to him, “Thomas, because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen me, and yet have believed.”
If we believe the Bible we shall know not only that Christ was born into the world to be our Savior, but also that he lived, and died upon the cross, to make our salvation certain. We shall know not only that he was once a little child to show his love for us, but also that he is now the King of kings, in the glory of his Father; and yet as mindful of us on the throne of heaven, as when here upon the earth. If we do not love and trust him as our savior, we have no right to be glad and happy on Christmas-day, for hi is not our Savior; and God will punish us the more, because he has sent his Son into the world, and we have not given our hearts to him. But if we do truly believe on him, and try, by his help, to be like him, we may praise and glorify God now for the birth of Jesus Christ, and hope, through the death of Jesus Christ, to praise him in heaven, where the angels are always singing, “Glory to God in the highest:” and we shall sing it with them, and perhaps as well as they can.
The sacred historian tells us, that after the shepherds had been to Bethlehem, to see the new-born Savior, they returned glorifying and praising God.
They glorified God:—That is, they not only were glad in their hearts, and talked gladly among themselves, but they worshipped God, with prayers and thanksgivings, and praised him for all the goodness and mercy he showed in sending his own Son to be born into the world, that he might be our Savior. For it is not enough that we are glad when God gives us blessings, we must remember that they come from the great and holy God; and that we do not deserve them, because we are sinners. Therefore we must worship him, first, as the great and holy God; and then thank him for having such a love and pity towards such poor creatures as we are. And this we should do, not only when we pray to God by ourselves, but also before other people in his church, that they may be taught to praise God too. We should glorify and praise God—
First:—For showing his love towards us in the birth of Christ.
When we think how great God is; how many worlds he has made; how many pure and glorious angels he has to serve him; and how many more he could make if he chose, and then think how little we are ourselves, and how little we can do for him, we might well be afraid that he would never take notice of us. It is true, he seems to take care of all; and there is not a little bird that sings but he feeds; and we cannot look into any little flower of the field in the morning, but we shall see in it a drop of dew that God has sent to make it fresh and sweet: and so he feeds us, and takes care of us, and all we have comes from him. But then it is so easy for him to do so. As he sits upon his high throne he has but to open his hand, and plenty rains down from it, for all the living beings he has made. If he only says, “Let it be done,” no matter what it is, it is done at once. May he not then take care of us without thinking about us, or loving us much, after all?
So we find the heathen, who have no Bible, though they may believe in God, seem always to be afraid of him than to think of him as a God of love. But when we read of the birth of Jesus Christ, and know that he is the Son of God—God himself—who has come all the way to earth to live among people on earth for a little while, as a child, as a lad, and then as a man, we must see how God loves us, and how much he thinks of us.
Heaven is a very bright and happy place. There is no trouble there. There are no storms, no winters, no dark nights there. The leaves of the trees never wither; the flowers are always blooming; and there are no thorns, nor briers, nor waste places where nothing can grow. There is no sickness among those who live in heaven. They never suffer any pains. They are never tired. They never die. Those happy angels never have shed one tear in all their happy lives. They never quarrel nor hate one another; nor fight, nor steal, nor kill each other; and heaven was Jesus Christ’s home. Yet he loved us so much that he came from heaven into this sad and unhappy world. He put himself into our nature, and had a body and a soul like ours. He lived among wicked men. He became so poor that he had no home to live in, and they treated him cruelly, and hated him; so that he was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief,” until he was put to death on the cross. He knew all this would happen to him when he came into the world, and yet he came, to show us how much he loved us, and how much he wished us to love him. O! How much must he love this world, when he thinks of the time he lived here for our sakes! How much must he love men when he remembers how he was a man! How much must he pity us when we are in trouble—for he had so much trouble himself! How much must he pity poor people, when he looks back upon the time when he was poor, and “had not where to lay his head!” How much must he love little children who love him, when he thinks of the manger at Bethlehem, where he slept as a little child.
Let us praise and glorify God as we think how much he loved us, and showed it by being born a little child. Surely he who loved us so much, then, will love us always, if we love him. Surely he who gave himself to us, will give us every thing that is good for us, if we ask and thank him for it. Surely we ought to love him best of all, who loved us so much, and is willing to love us still.
But there is another reason why we should glorify and praise God for giving us such a great Savior as Jesus Christ.
We are not only poor and little in his eyes, but we are also sinners. All our troubles, and sickness, and death, have been brought on us by our sins; and, what is worse, they are but the beginning of the trouble, and pain, and death that will come upon the sinner, who continues to be wicked, in another world. If God does not forgive us our sins, we shall be miserable forever in hell, among the devils. But God would rather save us than punish us forever. He wishes to bring us back to his love; that, instead of going to hell, we may go to heaven when we die: and he sent Jesus Christ into the world, that he might be our Savior.
We had broken his law, and God had said that he would love none who did not keep it; and Jesus Christ came and obeyed that law, that his father might love us for his sake. We deserve to die forever, because God had said that those who sin must die forever. But Jesus Christ died upon the cross in our stead. He died that we might not die.
God loved his Son so much, that he will take His death in place of the death of all those who are sorry for their sins, and who hope he will pardon them for Christ’s sake.
And now Jesus Christ, after living for us, and dying for us, has gone up to heaven to intercede for us, that God would hear us when we pray, and give us his pardon and his love, and every thing that we need.
O, when we think what Christ came into the world for, of all he suffered in his life of sadness, and his death of pain, and of how much he thinks of us now; and then think again that he is the great God, the very God we have sinned against, and whom we have made angry with us, ought we not to love him, and be sorry for our sins, and believe in his name?
We should glorify and praise God, too, for setting us such a good example in the life of Jesus Christ. We always know to do a thing better when we see it done, than when we are only told how to do it. So God thought; and though he had given us his holy commandments, and told us in many ways what we ought to do, yet, because we are very ignorant and foolish, he sent his Son, Jesus Christ, to become a man, that he might do what we are to do; and we know how to do all, by knowing how he did. So that now, if we only do as Christ did, we are sure that we are right.
He has set an example for us all. If we are young children, we see how Christ did when he was a little child. He loved his mother Mary, and her husband Joseph, who was like a father to him, and he obeyed them in all they said: for he was subject unto his parents. So all children who are like Jesus Christ, and wish him to love them, will love their fathers and mothers, or teachers, and do what they say. He grew in wisdom as he grew older: and so all good children who love Jesus Christ, will love to learn and become wiser every day. But especially did he love his Father in heaven, and learned his will, as you find when he went up to the temple at Jerusalem, and said he “must be about his Father’s Business;” by which he meant, that he should always serve his Father in heaven, and do what was for his glory. So all children who love Jesus Christ, will love to pray to their Father in heaven, and study the Bible, and attend at the place of worship; remembering that they are not their own masters, but God’s children.
Besides, we see that he was patient, and waited until his Father called him to act like a man, before he went out into the world to act for himself.
So all good children who wish to be like Jesus Christ, must not think that they are wise as men and women; but wait until they grow older before they contradict and become stubborn in thinking they are right, and everybody else is wrong. You may think you know a great deal now, my dear children; but you will not—at least I hope you will not—think so by and by. Those people who think they know the most, particularly little people, are always the greatest fools, and get the most laughed at of anybody.
Christ has set an example for us all: for though he was first a child, he afterwards became a man. Are we poor and obliged to work for our living?—Christ was poor—and if we bear our poverty as meekly and patiently as he did, he will love us the more, because we are poor and like him. I have heard of people who are very angry at being called servants, though they are servants, and are paid wages for doing their work. But Christ was a servant. He “took upon him the form of a servant,” when he was born; and once we find that he waited on his own disciples like a servant, and washed their feet.
The name of servant is an honorable name; and if we only serve God in serving others, we shall be the brethren of Christ; and all good Christians will love good servants for Christ’s sake. Better to be a pious servant, than a wicked king.
Are we rich?—We ought not to be proud of it, or of our fine clothes and handsome houses, and the many good things that we have, and so despise poor people; because Christ was rich: he owned everything; for he made everything. All we have is from him, and he can dress a little lily finer than a prince; yet he was so humble and meek, that he laid all aside, and came to bless poor people, and to take all that love him to a beautiful home in heaven. So, if we would be like Christ, instead of being proud, we should remember that we are so poor as to have nothing but what Christ gives, and use our money in helping the poor, in feeding and clothing the needy, and in giving Bibles and good books to those who have none, and in sending missionaries to teach the ignorant and wandering the way to heaven.
Are we in trouble? Christ was always in trouble while he was on earth; but he bore it all without murmuring, because it was his good Father’s will. So should we drink the cup our Father gives us; and although it may seem bitter at first, if we receive it patiently, it shall be very sweet in the end. Trouble, if we profit by it, is the way to heaven, for it is the way in which Christ went there.
All Christ’s life was spent in doing his Father’s will, and in doing good to men. It was his meat and drink to do his Father’s will; and he came all the way from heaven to earth to save the souls of those that were ready to perish. The same love that made him pity men’s souls, made him pity their bodies when they were in want or pain. Almost every day of his life, after his baptism, we find him working a miracle to feed hungry people; or healing some sick, or blind, or lame person; or raising up someone from the dead. But his chief business was to save souls. So, if we would be true Christians, we must follow Christ; we must serve God all our lives, and be always trying to do good to our fellow-creatures; and more than all, in trying to save their souls by his divine blessing.
Let us now learn a few lessons from the birth of Christ.
1. We must become as little children if we would enter the kingdom of Christ.
Christ was given to us as the pattern of a Christian; and we see that he was born from the power of God. So we must be born again by the Spirit of God; and as God dwelt in the human nature of Christ, so must God the Holy Spirit dwell in us, that we may be able to live Christian lives.
Christ began his life on earth from the earliest infancy, and never ceased serving God and doing good till the end of it. So we can never begin serving God too soon. We ought never to put off being Christians until we become older; for our whole lives are little enough to give him.
When we devote our youth to God, ‘Tis pleasing in his eyes:
A flower, when offered in the bud,
Is no vain sacrifice.
‘Tis easier work if we begin
To serve the Lord betimes;
While sinners that grow old in sin,
Are hardened in their crimes.
‘Twill save us from a thousand snares,
To mind religion young;
Grace will preserve our following years,
And make our virtues strong.
So, if we be young, we ought to begin to serve God at once, that all our lives may be spent for him: and that is the reason why Christ loves to have little children come to him, they look so like what he was when he began to serve God on earth. If we be old, the more reason that we should not put off serving him, because we have so little time (who can tell how little?) to serve him in.
We must begin the Christian life as little children. They know nothing, and then begin to learn. So must we, no matter how much we know of other things, come to Christ to be taught, as though we had never known anything before. We must be willing to begin at the beginning, as Christ himself did, by becoming a little child, and learn from God the things that belong to salvation.
We must feel ourselves to be weak and helpless as little children, looking to Christ for all that we need, and leaning upon him. How feeble was the infant Jesus, in his mother’s arms? How dependent is a little child upon his parents for food, for clothing, for instruction? So must we become the little children of God, to be carried in Christ’s arms, to be fed by his grace, and clothed by his righteousness; and taught by his Spirit, and led by his hand. Until we have such simple faith, we do not begin the Christian life.
2. We must be humble.
Christ was humble. He became a poor little child. He says, “Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest for your souls.” What a shame it is for anyone to be proud, when the Son of God was so humble? Humility is the root of the Christian character. The tallest oak tree in the forest grew from a little root, low, in the ground. If you cut that root, the tree dies, no matter how high and strong its branches may seem to be. So, unless we begin low, and keep our thoughts and prayers towards heaven, we shall never make true Christians. God hates proud people, but he gives grace to the humble.
3. We must be full of love and kindness.
It was love and kindness that made Christ our Savior. We are not Christians until we share in Christ’s loving-kindness, and be full of love and kindness to all around us. The best way to keep Christians, is first to give god thanks for his love and kindness to us, and then to show love and kindness to those who need our help. The best Christmas feast for a Christian’s heart, is making some poor person happy by our goodness for Christ’s sake.
I will only add some words of good St. Bernard.
There were four fountains in Paradise that sent forth living waters. So, there are four fountains opened by the birth of Christ in the kingdom of God.
There is the fountain of mercy, in which we may wash away our sins.
There is the fountain of heavenly wisdom, where we may drink in holy thoughts and feelings.
There is the fountain of the Spirit’s Grace, where we may drink in life and power to do God’s will.
And there is the fountain of holy zeal, which sends forth the waters of pious charity to refresh us, as we go on the way to heaven.
Let us then “draw waters with joy out of these wells of salvation.”