What Were They All Doing on Christmas Morning?
© 12/2016 C. O. Bishop THCF 12/25/2016; Revised 12/2019, Revised 12/2023
Hebrews 1:6; Luke 2:1-20
I used to take some time off work, every year, to spend Christmas with my family. When I got back to work, people greeted me in a friendly fashion, and several always asked, “Did you have a good Christmas?”
That is almost just a “rhetorical question,” since the expected answer is always “Yes,” though “qualifiers” are acceptable. Expansion on what was good (or not so good) is also acceptable, to some degree. But what we are always expected to do, at most, is to tell “What we were doing on Christmas Morning.”
So: let’s ask the same question regarding those persons who actually were present the Night of the Lord’s Birth. (By the way, I cannot prove that His birth was on December 25th, although there are some reasons suggesting it might have been. But the weather was not a deterrent. It is pretty warm in Jerusalem right now. Probably it was, that night, as well. So regardless of “when” the Lord was actually born, let’s just consider who was there, and then pose that same question regarding them:
What were They all doing on Christmas Morning?
We sing, “Angels we have heard on High, sweetly singing o’er the plain!” But… were they? Really? We talk about “We three kings, etc.” and we usually forget that the wise men (however many there were) were possibly as much as two years away, on Christmas morning…they were not part of the birthday experience at all.
We say, “Shepherds quake at the sight” (which was true!) But we sing all sorts of nice songs about drummer boys, and donkeys, and lambs, and oxen, and Mary, and Joseph, and…honestly, most of that is just very pleasant fiction. So, let’s set all that aside for just a few moments and ask, seriously, “What were they all doing on Christmas Morning?” Let’s take it one group at a time:
What were the Angels doing?
What were the Angels really doing? (“Sweetly singing o’er the plain?” Nope…sorry!)
To Begin with: Which Angel?
Let’s read and see: Luke 2:8-14 The Angel of the Lord appeared (Think about that one! We’ve done a lot of Old Testament study: Who is the Angel of the LORD? In the Old Testament, it was the preincarnate Christ!) The Glory of the Lord shone around the Shepherds.
The Shepherds were terribly afraid. (I’ll bet they were!) And the Angel of the Lord told them to not be afraid, “because He was bringing them glad tidings (good news) of Great Joy which shall be (future tense) to all people.” (Glad tidings—what is the word we usually associate with “Good News?” It is the Gospel!)
He went on to announce the birth of the “Savior; Christ the Lord.” He told the shepherds to go and find the Baby (Not Mary; not Joseph …the Baby!) and He told them where to look, and He told them how to recognize Him.
What about the Other Angels?
Immediately there appeared a multitude of other angelic beings (“the heavenly host”—the heavenly army) praising God, and saying (not singing…sorry!) “Glory to God in the Highest, and on Earth, Peace, Good Will toward Men!” (Could they have been singing, as well? Surely they could! They were singing at the Creation! See Job 38:7 But the question always comes down to “What does God’s Word actually say?”) And then they were gone! They just disappeared into the sky!
But, by God’s command, what were the Angels doing? Let’s read Hebrews 1:6; “…and when He (God) bringeth forth the firstbegotten into the world, He saith, And let all the angels of God worship Him (the Baby!)” The Angels were worshipping the Baby! (Not Mary, not Joseph, nor anyone else.)
How Important is Worship?
Now, think: who is the only one (according to God) who can rightfully receive worship? It is God himself! So, this is part of how we recognize and teach the deity of Christ. He is God!
The Angels, who worship no one but God, were worshipping Him. In fact, that is what we really were seeing over in Luke 2:13, 14…they were praising God…the one in the Manger!
They knew Him for who he was! The angels were not distracted by His infancy, nor his appearance of helplessness. They knew who He was! They worshipped Him as their Creator! (Hebrews 1:7 confirms this! It says, “He maketh His Angels spirits, and His ministers a flame of fire.”) Those angels were not impressed by the surroundings, for better or worse, nor by the other people that were present. They were there for one purpose: to Worship the Newborn King!
But…What was Mary doing?
Well, what should she be doing? Mary was just a very young (probably teen-aged) mother, who had just had a baby, her firstborn Son! She was terribly tired, but probably very happy with her little Baby. She was with her husband, who was caring for her, but she was probably feeling pretty overwhelmed by the events of the last nine months. We are not told whether she even saw (or heard) the angelic host worshipping her Baby. She evidently heard about those events through the shepherds, because we can see in Luke 2:19 that she “kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”
But, how did she “feel” about the surroundings? Well, we aren’t really told…but even in that culture, women wanted other women around when they gave birth. An aunt, or a mother or a sister, usually…a midwife, if you could afford one. Hospitals weren’t an option, in that time and place, but a stable wasn’t exactly optimal or normal, even then.
How “Special” should “Signs” be?
Some people today argue that the manger bed and the stable birth were commonplace for that era, and even preferable. I think we can safely say that is not true: How do we know that the manger bed and all the rest were not normal…not commonplace? Because the Angel of the Lord gave those facts to the shepherds as being the specific signs by which they would recognize the baby.
Why would he give the shepherds “clues” that were completely ordinary, as “signs by which to recognize the Savior?” The manger and the swaddling clothes, while not unheard of, were unusual enough that they were the signs given by the angel by which to recognize the Savior! If they were that unusual, how did Mary feel about it all? We aren’t told! The songs speculating about her feelings are just that: Speculation!
Mary probably spent the next few hours alternately sleeping, and tending to her Baby. The visit by the shepherds was probably a surprise. She and Joseph were huddling together in a dark stable, trying to stay warm, and trying to re-group—just trying to figure out what they were going to do next.
Suddenly these “grubby shepherds” came bursting in the door, looking for a baby, “dressed in swaddling clothes, and lying in a manger.” And there he was!
Did they give Mary “special attention?” Probably so, yes! Most people do give special attention to new mothers. But they were there to see the baby! They saw Mary and Joseph, and they saw the Baby lying in the manger, just as they had been told. But the Baby was who they had been sent to find, and He was the One with whom they were primarily concerned…The Savior, Christ the Lord!
And What was Joseph doing?
Well…we really are not told that, either. But consider this: He was evidently an older man, as we see later that he had apparently died, well before Jesus began His ministry. Joseph was an older man and freshly out of work. He had been forced to travel away from Nazareth, (in Galilee, where he had lived and worked,) due to this new “decree” from Caesar. He was eighty miles from home, on foot, and a very poor man. Joseph was probably thinking ahead, wondering what he was going to do for work.
He may also have been thinking back to the visit he had experienced, from the Angel Gabriel, telling him that his fiancée, Mary, had been chosen by God to bear the child who is the Savior.
That must have been a difficult time for both Joseph and Mary: The neighbors were undoubtedly looking at him and assuming that he had committed fornication, and gotten his fiancée pregnant. Or worse, that she herself was immoral and that he had simply chosen to “cover for her.” The stigma was there, and it was not going to go away.
Think about it: they were in the city of his family, of his ancestry, but no one there offered him and Mary a place to stay. How else did they end up in that stable? Why were there no doors open to him and his bride? I would guess it was because he was an embarrassment to them. Perhaps they even openly ostracized him. We really don’t know. All we know for sure are the facts, as revealed in scripture.
So, What were the Shepherds doing?
That is the one question about which we are told a fair amount: They were just “minding their own business,” caring for their flocks at night, in the open fields. Possibly they were having a bit of a chat, to stay awake, or perhaps walking around, watching over the flock to keep them safe from predators. But they were just carrying on business as usual, until the Angel of the Lord dropped in for a visit.
Remember: When God steps into the picture, everything changes!
That line about “Shepherds quake at the sight!” is probably one of the most accurate statements in all the hymns about the birth of Christ. They were frightened, nearly to death!
Isn’t it interesting that all the people in the Bible who really saw angels, or who really met the pre-incarnate Christ, or somehow saw the Lord in his glory, were not “feeling all happy and blessed:” they were afraid!
With or Without the Fear of the Lord?
Why is it that today, all the folk who claim to have seen the Lord say what a “wonderful, peaceful experience” it was, just “flooding their souls with Joy?” My guess is that they really didn’t experience what they say they experienced, becvause the ones who really did experience it were terrified, pretty much without exception. (Especially the men: Jesus seems to be pretty gentle toward the women.)
Calming the Storm and Revealing His Identity
When Jesus calmed the storm, for example, the disciples in the boat didn’t look around and say, “Way cool, Jesus! We didn’t know you could do that!” They had already been afraid that they were all about to drown! These were seasoned, commercial fishermen, who were expert small boat handlers, and they all had been in storms before. But they were seriously expecting to die in this storm!
However, when they woke up the Lord, and asked Him to take a hand, He calmed the storm! And far from being overjoyed and relieved, they were more afraid! They said “What manner of man is this, that even the wind and waves obey him?” They were more afraid of the true presence of God than they were of death itself!
A Supernatural Confrontation
So, when the Angel of the Lord appeared, the shepherds were terrified. They had dealt with jackals, bears, and lions by night, all their lives. (How would you feel if your job was to protect yourself and the flock, but you were dealing with large, wild predators at night, armed with only a stick, a sling, maybe a sword, or some other rather “primitive” weapon?) They were already experienced and courageous, or they could not have done their jobs!
But they were terrified at the sight of the Angel of the Lord! His first words were to calm their fear, so that he could communicate the Joy of Christmas. And that Joy was in the Person of Jesus.
Supernatural Obedience, by Faith
The shepherds left their flocks in the field, which is not normal! (If you leave the flock, you are a bad shepherd!) But they were commanded to do so, and they did. (Maybe they figured that the angels could take a turn watching the flock. And evidently they did!)
The shepherds went to Bethlehem, and they hunted through the stables until they found the Baby and Joseph and Mary. They told other people around the area what had happened. They told about the angelic messenger, and the child…and finally…they went back to their flocks. But they left behind them an amazed village, and within themselves, they had Great Joy for the privilege they had shared. (No vacation, no Christmas dinner, no stockings hung by the chimney…just “Great Joy!”)
Why the Joy? They were Glorifying God, and Praising God for all that they had heard and seen, and the fact that everything had been exactly as they had been told to expect. In other words, they thanked Him for His fulfilled prophecy.
I don’t know whether they had thought through all the other fulfilled prophecies, yet. Consider Micah 5:2 for example: The Lord had promised, 400 years earlier, that the Messiah was to be born in Bethlehem. They were the primary witnesses to the fulfillment of that promise, and others. If they had expanded upon that beginning, and considered Who that Baby was, and what else was prophesied about Him, they might not have wanted to go back to the flock, at all. I don’t think they put it all together, though…we seldom do today, either, really.
Finally…What are You doing on Christmas?
We have been conditioned to think of Christmas as a “time of joy and peace”…and we want it to be so. But we also tend to focus pretty much on family, rest, children, gifts, and food…lots of food. I don’t see a problem with most of that. When God commanded His people to throw a party, and have a national feast day, they focused on all those things, too. But they remembered what they were celebrating…they didn’t forget why they were there!
It is important that we take time to consider who Jesus really is. Consider the fact that, right there in that manger, wrapped up in rags, He was the Creator! He was God! When we sing that song, “Mary did you know…,” I have to tell you, I don’t think she could have known! We look back, from the vantage point (and the safe distance) of 2000 years, and we still don’t really comprehend it.
How do we see Jesus?
If Mary had seen Jesus the same way as the disciples saw him when he calmed the storm, do you think she would have been “snuggling him in her arms and crooning a lullaby?” She couldn’t have seen Him that way!
But it is imperative that we do! It is vital that we experience the utter amazement of the fact of the incarnation, and that we be blessed by the Grace which God has extended to us.
We cannot grasp it all, but we can reach out by faith and receive it as a gift. We can place our faith in His Grace, and know the Peace of God in an eternal relationship. As born-again believers, we are not “dragged in as an orphaned waif,” and simply “called” His child: We are born into His family by the new birth, and we live eternally as His child…His real child, born of His Grace.
Looking Beyond the Manger
When we think about Christmas, we need to be looking beyond the “manger scene.” (Look far enough ahead to see the Cross, and the Tomb, and the Resurrection. Look even further, and see His soon coming, and His eternal reign.)
We need to look beyond the manger, and find Peace and Joy in the fact of the Savior. Mary pondered these things in her heart. It seems good that we should do the same. Think about these things: ponder them in your heart. Consider the enormity of what was really going on that first Christmas.
The Christmas story was not about Mary. It was not about Joseph or the shepherds. It was not about the angels, and they knew it better than anyone: They worshipped the newborn King! They guarded his humanity (though He surely needed no help), but they worshipped Him as God!
We can do the same. Christmas is about Jesus, our Savior! He is God in the flesh, and our only Advocate with God the Father. To the World, He is the Judge, though He offered Himself as the Savior. To us, of course, He is the Savior, though He is still the King, and the Judge and the God of the Universe. You see, in our case, relationally, the fact that He is our Savior takes precedence over all the rest. We no longer have to fear God’s wrath. We have His Grace. This is not a “seasonal” thing. His Grace has been conferred as a permanent gift, in Eternal life!
So… Now What?
The Shepherds told others about what they had seen and heard. We can do that, too: especially because we know who He really is, whereas the Shepherds only knew a little. He is the source of all things, and the key to the Joy of Christmas. And we can be a part of extending that joy to the rest of the world around us. If we really know Him for who He is, and really believe the true Christmas Story, then sharing it with others should be the most natural thing in the world.
Also, none of the people in the Biblical, historical account just “went back to normal” after that night. It was not a “seasonal thing.” It changed their lives forever, and they shared it with others, just as we are called to do.
We need to rise above our “seasonal pattern” of just “putting away the decorations, and getting on with life.” He is the Life! We are not supposed to just “get over” what He is doing in our lives: Rather, we are to grow deeper into that relationship, and allow it to bear eternal fruit!
God grant that we will do so!
Lord Jesus, allow us, momentarily at least, to see You in your Glory, and to worship You as God. Allow us to love You in your humanity, but also to look beyond Your humanity and to worship You, and love You as our faithful Creator. Let us serve as witnesses to Your glory, as did the shepherds. Allow us to continually ponder these things in our hearts, as You transform our lives.