One doesn’t usually get excited about an empty field. Now, the idea of what might go there can – a crop if you are a farmer, a new residential development or office park if you are a contractor. But an empty field?
Not chance. We just drive by without a second glance.
Yet just outside Bethlehem is a field long-recognized as the place where 2,000 years ago shepherds were watching their flock at night.
And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, “Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
[Luke 2:9-14, King James version]
While Texans like to celebrate our farmers and our rural heritage, shepherds weren’t the toast of ancient Israel society. Often dirty, coarse men, they definitely weren’t the polite company of the well-heeled pals of the Roman puppet King Herod.
Those shephards didn’t start their evening watch expecting to be the recipients of such a message any more than their contemporaries (or any of us) would have expected them to have been. Scripture doesn’t record the reaction of the people of Bethlehem when the shepherds came dashing into town; I suspect it was somewhat incredulous.
The shepherds weren’t expecting to see an angelic host of God any more than the sleepy residents of Bethlehem were expecting the shepherds. And none were expecting to see the Messiah. But that’s how God works.
Glad tidings of peace don’t come when we expect it, but when (and how) God knows we need it. Wherever we are, let us be hopefully listening!