My childhood memories on the Emerald Isle include walking with Shadow, our sheepdog, through the rolling fields on my Dad’s farm. I grew up in a farmhouse, surrounded by picturesque fields dotted with sheep and bordered by hedgerows. Drives into a local village could be interrupted by a neighbor leading his sheep down the main road, as he moved them from one field to another. Memories linger of the day my sister and I received our own pet lambs—Lucy and Skippy. In a child’s way, I loved it all.
While I was a farmer’s son, I was not a farmer. I’m not sure when the penny dropped, but it became obvious; I didn’t have a farmer’s heart. I’ve seen this love in the farmer’s furrowed brow when sickness weakens a calf and in the falling tear when an animal dies. At the happier end of the spectrum, this love is unmistakable in the joyous smiles when an animal is born.
Even though I was not a farmer, I became familiar with the rhythms and routines of a farmer’s life. One particularly intense time (renowned for it’s 24-7 workload) was lambing season. For sheep farmers with lots of sheep, lambing season drains them to below empty physically, but fills them to overflowing emotionally, because it’s always a good day when a lamb is born!
Given these personal memories, I’m fascinated that shepherds feature so prominently in the original Christmas. Luke records Jesus’ birth, then moves to farmers nearby, “keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:8). Farmers, guarding their sheep! God insisted that they hear of the birth of a…baby. Local sheep farmers, chosen by God, to receive this special birth announcement.
It’s not that there’s anything abnormal about a birth announcement. A newborn is a powerful magnet – families are attracted to hold her, friends drawn to see her, and gifts accumulate around her. The news also spreads. Today, a baby’s birth triggers a joyful jingle that radiates the joy of that room throughout the hospital. The beaming smiles begin to ripple across the building, bringing smiles to the faces of the sick and hurting. Texts, emails, and updates race over the globe to family and friends, carrying the good tidings—a baby is born! Our most brilliant birth announcements seem like a boring footnote buried in a newspaper when compared to this staggering front page display! Jesus’ birth was heralded by an angel of the Lord surrounded by the glory of God, and serenaded by a “multitude of the heavenly host!” (Luke 2:9-13)
Why this kind of announcement? And, why…to shepherds? They’d never heard of Mary or Joseph. Besides, they were a group who, in that day, were kept at arm’s length; unkempt and unclean, uneducated – stigmatized and ostracized by society. Why, then, did this dramatic announcement come to them?
The Christmas story is the birth of…a Lamb. The scene of a newborn, surrounded by animals and lying in a manger, is stunningly fitting. He is a Lamb. The announcement to shepherds is strikingly appropriate. The birth of this Lamb was suitably heralded by angels; for he had come to send ripples of joy throughout the universe! Every sick and hurting person must hear the jingle of this birth!
When this Lamb grew, John pointed to him and cried, “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Therein lies the reason for this joy! He would grow up to suffer and die as the perfect sacrifice to end all sacrifices. In His
death, he would take away “the sin of the world.” This Lamb, born in a stable, would grow up to die on the cross. He died for the unkempt and unclean, the irreligious and untouchable, the ostracized and stigmatized. In shedding his blood, the ultimate sickness of humanity, sin, is cured. It’s why Peter describes this blood as “precious…as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Pet. 1:19). This Lamb can put more than a fading smile on the faces of the sick and hurting; he can give them the smile of salvation that will last forever.
For all who realize just how spiritually unclean they are, and who place their faith exclusively in this Lamb – he takes away their sin. He gives them the unending smile of salvation that will shine forever in Heaven as a testimony to the work of the Lamb. In Heaven, they will forever bless the day this Lamb was born in that stable and died on that cross. They will join the shepherds, who praised and glorified God (Luke 2:20). What will they say? “Worthy is the Lamb” (Rev. 5:12).
There is joy on a farm when a lamb is born. Joy to the farm! There is a greater joy in a hospital when a baby is born. Joy to the family! On that first Christmas Day, there was a greater joy—the Lamb of God was born in a stable. Joy to the shepherds! Joy to the unclean! Joy to the sinful! Joy to the untouchable! Joy, to the world!
Changed from outcasts to beloved children of the Heavenly King—no wonder we sing “Joy to the World!”
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