Week 3 – Shepherds
Joy: The Proper Response to the Good News of the Messiah’s Coming
Sunday reading: Luke 2:8-20
Monday reading: John 1:1-18
Tuesday reading: John 3:1-21
Wednesday reading: John 4:1-26
Thursday reading: John 4:27-42
Friday reading: Luke 7:1-10
Saturday reading: Matthew 1:18-2:12
I recently posted Advent Bible readings for this year. I have prepared a handout in English and Spanish here. I have posted a guide to help readers with weeks one and two. Similarly, here is my guide for week three’s readings. Guides for Advent tend to label each week with a particular theme. The third week is often associated with the shepherds and joy. So, I focus the third week’s readings on joy and the proper response to the good news of the Messiah’s coming. Joy is one aspect of the proper response to the Christ’s coming. Look in this week’s readings for another aspect of the proper response to this good news.
Have you ever noticed how little attention the shepherds receive in our Christmas celebrations? The wise men generally steal the show, because they come with gifts and gifts are such a central part of our Christmas festivities. On the other hand, the shepherds generally get one representative in our nativity scenes and he tends to fade into the background. Have you ever tried to find a shepherd decoration for your Christmas tree? It is not easy.
The first reading is from Luke 2:8-20, where we will focus upon the shepherds. The shepherds are a vital example for us. They show us how we should respond to the good news of the birth of Jesus the Christ, the Messiah, the Anointed One (see Ps. 2:2, 1 Sam. 2:10). The shepherds receive some important news from an angel. He says, “I proclaim to you good news of great joy which will be for all people” (2:10). We see here two of the common elements of the theology of Luke and Acts. The good news is good news for all people, which will eventually include all the nations (Acts 1:8), and it is a proclamation of joy and causes rejoicing (Luke 2:10, 20).
The titles announced by the angel in Luke 2:11 are important. The child born in the “city of David” is no less than a “Savior, who is Christ, the Lord.” Savior is a title for Jesus that occurs in Luke’s gospel, but not in Matthew or Mark. In the Old Testament, it is God who bears the title Savior. Lord is another title for God in the Old Testament and in Luke and Acts (see Luke 1:46). These two titles point to the truly special nature of this child. He will turn out to live up to both of these titles in that it will become clear that he is the divine Savior and Lord who has come to redeem Israel and the Gentiles (2:32). His divinity was already made clear in the story of his birth (1:35). The child is also the Christ (or Messiah or Anointed One), who will fulfill God’s promises to David. He will sit on David’s throne and rule over Israel according to Luke 1:32-33.
Given the emphasis upon David in Luke 1-2, why do the shepherds play such a prominent role here? What was David doing before he became king? He was shepherding sheep near Bethlehem (1 Sam. 16:1, 2 Sam. 7:8). The David typology of Luke 1-2 helps us to account for the special notice given to the shepherds. They are doing what David once did. Therefore, it seems fitting for these David-like shepherds to come from tending their flocks to greet the new shepherd, the Christ, who will also be like David and even greater than David. They are the first ones to proclaim publicly the good news of the coming of a Savior, who is the Christ and the Lord (2:18). They go back to their flocks praising God for what they have seen and heard. Like them, we who know the good news should rejoice and proclaim the good news.
The second through fifth readings are all from the Gospel of John. One aspect of this week’s theme is the proper response to the good news of the Messiah’s coming. John 1:1-18 is the prologue of John. If interpreters, like Culpepper, are right, then the center of the prologue is in John 1:12. The proper response to the good news is to receive Jesus, to believe in him, and to become children of God. In John 3:1-21, Jesus speaks to Nicodemus and reveals several aspects of the good news associated with his descent from heaven (3:13). What did the Son come to do? What is the proper response to him? In John 4:1-42 (readings four and five), we see a good example of Jesus’ proclamation of the good news concerning himself and an amazing response. Who responds to the good news in John 4:1-42? How do they respond? On the importance of the Samaritans in biblical theology, see my post on Acts 1:8.
In Luke 7:1-10, we see once again the appearance of Luke’s theme that the good news is for all. Who is commended here for great faith? How is his faith compared to the faith that Jesus has encountered in his own people, Israel? If even a Roman centurion is capable of such great faith, then faith must be possible for all, both Jews and Gentiles.
The week ends with Matthew 1:18-2:12. Who demonstrates the proper response to the good news of the Messiah’s coming in these verses? Like the centurion and the Samaritans, Joseph responds to the news of Mary’s special child with faith and obedience, which shows that he is a righteous and obedient man, like David was, especially in his early years (1:16, 19). After Joseph, we see the example of the Magi. In Matthew 2:10-11, what are their two responses when they finally encounter the one “who has been born king of the Jews” (2:2)? Notice how the readings for the week come back around to joy and rejoicing (2:10).