In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them…and said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day…a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Luke 2: 8-11
Why did the angel announce Jesus’ birth to shepherds?
Maybe because Jesus was born in a stable, and the likes of shepherds, who spent most of their time with animals, fit right in.
Maybe because Jesus would later identify himself as “the Good Shepherd” and his own would recognize him most easily.
Or maybe because Jesus was the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world, making shepherds the most appropriate welcoming committee.
It could have been any number of reasons, but I think—at least in part—it was because shepherds have a lot of time on their hands. We’re told they were out in the open fields, keeping watch. They were watching in case of danger to their sheep, but the act of watching means openness to observe anything that might happen—especially something out of the ordinary.
What if the angel’s announcement would have been observable to anyone receptive to it, but the only ones who noticed were the shepherds? Granted, they had an advantage. There probably wasn’t a lot else going on in the fields for them to see. It would have been more challenging for townspeople to notice the angel’s message—especially with the hubbub of the crowded city streets due to the census.
Like the townspeople, we may have many demands our attention during this hectic holiday season. We may not have the luxury of a work schedule that builds in plenty of down time. That’s why we owe it to ourselves to carve out some time—even if just for a few moments each day—to be still and listen to any message God might want to give our hearts. We don’t want to miss any good news.
Prayer: Lord, quiet my mind and heart and help me watch for you.
Reflection: How will you give yourself the gift of quiet during this Advent season?
The shepherds went back, signing praises to God for all they had heard and seen; it had been just as the angel had told them. Luke 2: 20
After the Christmas night events, the shepherds went back home, but they were changed. The shepherds are a familiar part of the Christmas story. While they were tending sheep, an angel appeared to them saying, “…This very day in David’s town your Savior was born—Christ the Lord! And this is what will prove it to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Then an army of angels appeared, singing God’s praise. Based on this revelation, the shepherds went to Bethlehem seeking their Lord and Savior.
They found Mary and Joseph living in a barn, with the baby lying in a cattle trough: not very impressive. Despite the pictures on Christmas cards, it’s quite possible that Mary, Joseph, and the baby did not have circles of yellow light around their heads. Other people probably saw the family in the stable—somebody had to take care of the animals housed there—but we don’t hear about townspeople giving the family a second look. Why the shepherds? What moved them so that they went back home singing praises to God?
Luke tells us it had been just as the angel had told them. The shepherds’ conviction began in the field when they saw a vision, heard a message, and had the faith to follow. Perhaps their sense of wonder sprang from the validation of their experience in the field. The truth of the glory, vision, and message was to be trusted because they found what they were promised to find.
Maybe the shepherds received the angel’s message because they were the only ones watching and listening. What else is there to do in a field of sheep? On the other hand, the mandatory census was a boom for business in Bethlehem. The town was crowded with bustling people.
Christmas is over. We all have commitments and obligations. but as a new year begins, who knows what we might find if we carve out some time to be still, watch and listen.
Prayer: Lord, help me notice what’s important, not just what grabs my attention.
Reflection for sharing: Where can you find a few minutes to watch and listen in stillness today?
But these people attack with insults anything they do not understand… Jude: 10a
Have you ever tried desperately to explain yourself to others and not gotten through? Most of us have felt misunderstood and unjustly criticized at one time or another.
It isn’t necessarily that we want others to conform to our point of view—at least, not all the time. Sometimes we just want to know that we’ve been heard and understood. Even if others aren’t convinced, it’s somehow is easier to “agree to disagree” when we’ve been given a fair hearing.
Of course, it’s a two-way street. Sometimes I’m so busy trying to convince the other guy of my position that I don’t take the time or energy to understand his. “Walk a mile in my shoes,” as the saying goes. When we sincerely make an effort to understand a different point of view, we still may not agree with it, but we’re less likely to attack those who hold it. Mutual respect opens the door to true communication.
Prayer: Lord, grant me greater understanding.
Reflection for sharing: When you’ve felt miss-judged, how were you treated? How can this impact your response when you are tempted to judge others?
Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28
Although sometimes I wish there were more hours in the day—I don’t really want longer days, I just want to accomplish more. God often reminds my heart that I have exactly as many hours in a day that everyone else has. I will be able to get done all that I am meant to get done within the 24-hour period at hand. That does NOT guarantee that I will get done all that I want to get done. The truth is, there’ve been days when I finished everything on my to do list, figured I hadn’t put enough on there to begin with, and quickly added more! So it’s safe to say that the problem is not with how long the day is, but with my over-ambitious attitude.
Of course we all have days when circumstances seem to gang up on us, but if that becomes a way of life, we need to stop and look at how we contribute to the pattern. It isn’t always easy to see our part in creating or perpetuating never-ending busy-ness. That’s why it is so helpful to stop, look, and listen to what God offers us—but it seems hardest to do when we need it most! I think it was St. Francis De Sales who said we should pray for half an hour every day unless the day was going to be very busy…on very busy days, we should pray for an hour!
God never asks us to do more than we are able to do and I can’t believe it is His will for us to run ourselves ragged. How effective can we be if we’re worn out? Jesus offers us an ever-available oasis in a sea of activity. To gain perspective, all we have to do is take the time to accept his offer.
Prayer: Lord, help me accept the rest you offer my mind and heart.
Reflection for sharing: How can I create time and space to rest with God—however briefly—today?
Those who know you, Lord, will trust you; you do not abandon anyone who comes to you. Psalm 9: 10
If we’re afraid to trust ourselves and our loved ones to God’s care, maybe we don’t know him well enough. Painful circumstances don’t mean God has abandoned us.
Seeing past misfortune and trusting God takes knowing God. Unfortunately, English only has one word for “know”. Other languages have two. For example, in Spanish, the word saber means to know intellectually while the word conocer means to know by direct encounter, to be familiar with. I suspect knowing the Lord enough to trust him takes more than knowing facts about God. When push comes to shove, intellectual knowledge can’t always reach the heart levels where real life often hits us. Getting to know the Lord on this more personal level involves the same things that go into developing a relationship with another person: spending time together, sharing our thoughts and feelings, and listening to them. Spending time in prayer is one way to get to know the Lord better, both by pouring out our hearts to Him and by reading His word and listening for what it might be saying to us personally.
Becoming familiar with people who have endured calamity and not abandoned their faith, whether Biblical figures or modern day heroes, gives us a hope that we, too, can trust God when calamity is at our door. Their examples give us a glimpse of how to put that trust into action.
Prayer: Lord, help me know you better and trust you more.
Reflection for sharing: What can I do today, to get to know the Lord a little better?
And Jesus concluded, “Listen, then, if you have ears!”
The art of listening is the “North Star of parenting” according to an article by Marlo Thomas. I was reading the piece over breakfast one morning. I wanted to read about how her father’s ability to listen impacted her life, but my husband kept interrupting my reading. He asked me something—I can’t remember what—and I mumbled a quick “Uh-huh.” He asked me something else and I gave another non-committal response. The third time he asked me something, I finally got it. My husband wanted to have a conversation.
Instead of reading about listening, I put the magazine down and listened. We ended up chatting about when we first met as we finished breakfast. The pleasant stroll down memory lane started our day on a warm and happy note. Even though the article I’d been reading was about listening, it took me three tries to get the message. If I’d been reading about anything else, I might have missed a golden opportunity. I wonder how many other opportunities I’ve missed and never even noticed because I wasn’t listening?
Prayer: Lord, help me listen to what You want me to hear today.
Reflection for sharing: How can you open yourself to new opportunities in your day by listening more?