Being Joyful Like The Shepherds

Series: Seasonal Attitudes To Have All Year Long

Topic: Joy, Luke 2:8-20


Levi Durfey




This holiday season we’ve been looking at seasonal attitudes to have all year long. During the stressful holidays, we especially need cultivate in our hearts the attitudes of contentment, thankfulness, peace, gentleness, and patience. But a person could have all those attitudes and still miss the most important attitude to have this season—joy.


If you look at Christmas decorations or cards, you’ll find that “joy” is often a word found somewhere on them. Here’s a few quotes from cards that I found:


  • May Peace, Joy, Hope and Happiness be yours during this Holiday Season and throughout the New Year


  • Wishing you a Joyous Christmas and a New Year filled with Peace and Happiness


  • Best Wishes for Peace and Joy this Christmas and a New Year of Health, Happiness and Prosperity


What do you suppose most people would say is the reason that they have joy during the holidays? I made a list—


1. Some people say that they like the decorations.

2. Others find their joy in the Christmas parties.

3. Children are often happy to receive Christmas gifts.

4. Many people are excited about being together with family.

5. Kids and college students rejoice in having a break from school.


I am sure we could add to that list, but it’s clear that people can have many reasons for being joyful during the holidays. But notice that the decorations, parties, gifts, family get-togethers, and school breaks all come to an end. The joy they bring ends, sometimes with a hangover!


Christians, however, have a source of joy that will never end. It’s the same joy that came to the shepherds who witnessed Jesus’ birth over 2,000 years ago. What gave them joy? It was a joyful message, followed by a joyful encounter.




…To Poor Shepherds First


And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, 

keeping watch over their flock by night.  (Luke 2:8)

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.  (Luke 2:9)


Shepherds, in those days, were among the bottom of the social ladder. What is fascinating about the joyful announcement of Jesus’ birth is not so much that angels did the announcing, as it is to whom the announcement was made. Note that the religious elite—Pharisees, Sadducees, and priests were not present. Nor were there kings and princes. Neither were there doctors and lawyers and such. It was just simple shepherds. 


God’s message of joy does not need to have man’s stamp of approval, religious or intellectual or otherwise. It’s a message of joy for the least child to the most powerful man or woman on earth.


Angels can appear in many ways, including, in a form that no one would recognize them as angels and entertain them unawares (Hebrews 13:2). That’s obviously not the case here. The angel appears in the intense “glory of the Lord.” I imagine that it may have knocked the shepherds to their knees. The shepherds were very “afraid.”


A message of good news is not one that you bring quietly. The young man whose sweetheart just said “Yes!” is going to shout it from the mountaintops. He’ll call his parents and break their eardrums shouting into the phone.


And so God, also, chose a kind of announcement that, while it was frightening to the poor shepherds at first, it was also one of intense glory and joy. But God did not mean for it to be limited to shepherds, this was a message…


…To All People


And the angel said unto them, 

Fear not: for, behold, 

I bring you good tidings of great joy, 

which shall be to all people.  (Luke 2:10)


When we are thrust into the presence of heavenly glory, our natural tendency will be to be afraid. The presence of Heaven is holy, and we are not. It’s possible the shepherds thought that judgment was upon them. The angel, however, immediately assured them that was not the case. He did not bring a message of judgment, but one of “good tidings of great joy.”


The phrase “good tidings” is from the same Greek word that is often translated in the Bible, “preach the gospel” (e.g., 1 Corinthians 9:16). The gospel is good news! It’s the good news that we do not have to be doomed for our sin, but that there is a Savior who can save us from our sins.


When you hear good news, how do you respond? You respond with joy that is directly proportional to the good news that you have heard. “Good news! You just won a free box of cereal” does not bring you as much joy as “Good news! You just won a Caribbean cruise!”


The angel told the shepherds that his message was one of “great joy.” And not just for the shepherds either, but for “all people.” Anyone can come to Christ, whether you are a shepherd or a king, a thief or a good, law-abiding citizen, a Muslim or someone raised in a Christian home. The apostle Paul would declare:


For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. (Romans 1:16)


This is good news for the whole world!  Why is this a message of “great joy”? Because it’s…


…About A Savior In A Manger


For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, 

which is Christ the Lord.  (Luke 2:11)

And this shall be a sign unto you; 

Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, 

lying in a manger.  (Luke 2:12)

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host 

praising God, and saying,  (Luke 2:13)

Glory to God in the highest, 

And on earth peace, 

Good will toward men.  (Luke 2:14)


I see in these verses at least two stunning, joy-filled truths:


1) We need a “Saviour.” If you suddenly get a sharp pain in your side, or numbness in your arms, what do you do? You get concerned. Most people would start seeking out a doctor, because they will understand that they need help—they need a savior. When people are hurting, fearful, and concerned about matters of life and death, they seek out a savior.


The first question of the gospel is this: “Do you believe that you need a Savior?” The “peace” the angels proclaimed is the peace between sinful humanity and a holy God. Unsaved human beings are at war with God—that’s what sin really is, it’s warring against God. We need “peace” with God, we need a Savior.


What did Jesus come to do? He came to save us. And if he came to save us, there must be something that he came to save us from. When you recognize that you are a sinner, then salvation through Jesus Christ is a joy-filled truth.


The first joy-filled truth is that we need a Savior; the second joy-filled truth is…


2) Our “Saviour” came to earth as a baby. I appreciate how, in the movie, The Nativity Story, king Herod is shown as looking for the Messiah as a man. He tells his soldiers to check every man going to Bethlehem. And the soldiers make a point of looking for a man who looks royal and noble and powerful. 


Then when Herod visits with the wise men, they tell him that they are searching for the Messiah, a child. Herod is stunned. “What do you mean a child? Are you not here seeking a man? A man ready to proclaim himself messiah?”


“No, a child,” one of the wise men answer, “A Messiah for the lowest of men to the highest of kings.” The look on Herod’s face is priceless as he tries to process that new information and keep up the deception he’s pulling on the wise men.


Jesus came as a “babe wrapped in swaddling clothes” and “lying in a manger,” a feeding trough. We need to be stunned by this truth for it to fill our hearts with joy. We need to recognize that our Savior became one of us to save us. Our sin deserves the death penalty. God cannot die, he is eternal. So he became a human for one great purpose—to die.


Have you received the salvation the Savior bought for you on the cross? Have you trusted Jesus and Jesus alone for salvation? When you do, you will experience a peace and joy that will go on for eternity, no matter what else happens to you in this life.


The shepherds heard a joyful message and rushed to…




Faith requires a response. The shepherds believed the angel’s joyful message and responded by going to have a joyful encounter…


…With A Baby


And it came to pass, 

as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, 

the shepherds said one to another, 

Let us now go even unto Beth-lehem, 

and see this thing which is come to pass, 

which the Lord hath made known unto us.  (Luke 2:15)

And they came with haste, 

and found Mary, and Joseph, 

and the babe lying in a manger.  (Luke 2:16)


The word “joy” or “happy” isn’t used in these verses, but you can be certain that the shepherds were extremely joyful. They didn’t say, “Oh, alright, the angel seems to want us to go see the baby. Well, I guess we’d better go…it’s dark though, we’ll wait until tomorrow.” No, that’s not what they did. 


The shepherds “came with haste.” The Greek word for “haste” can have the sense of eagerness. For example, in the story of Zacchaeus, that word is used twice and connected with joy:


5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up, and saw him, and said unto him, Zacchaeus, make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. 6 And he made haste, and came down, and received him joyfully. (Luke 19:5–6)


This is the kind of joyful hasting that the shepherds did.


Some Christians seem to be very sad or grumpy all the time. They say that they have a joy in their hearts, so it doesn’t have to show on their faces. Randy Alcorn relates this story:


Abraham Lincoln’s advisers recommended that he include a particular man in his presidential cabinet. When he refused, they asked why.

“I don’t like the man’s face,” Lincoln replied.

Surprised, someone insisted, “But the poor man isn’t responsible for his face.”

Lincoln responded, “Every man over forty is responsible for his face.”

Lincoln wasn’t talking about a person’s physical beauty; he was saying that the heart’s condition always makes its way to the face.


The Bible says, “A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance…” (Proverbs 15:13). Christians, starting in the late 19th century, began to separate joy from being an emotion. 


The idea that joy isn’t an emotion has become part of our theology. What? Yes it is! True, sometimes our joy is buried behind tears. But let’s not try to redefine joy so we can be a joyful grumpy person. Joy is joy. Show it, and if you don’t have it, pray for it.


The shepherds had a joyful encounter with a baby; they had a joyful encounter…


…With Others That They Told


And when they had seen it, 

they made known abroad the saying 

which was told them concerning this child.  (Luke 2:17)

And all they that heard it wondered at those things 

which were told them by the shepherds.  (Luke 2:18)

But Mary kept all these things, 

and pondered them in her heart.  (Luke 2:19)

And the shepherds returned, 

glorifying and praising God 

for all the things that they had heard and seen, 

as it was told unto them. (Luke 2:20)


The joyful shepherds went and told others what they had seen and what “was told them concerning this child.” They focused on Jesus. Those “that heard it wondered at those things.” The word “wondered” means to marvel or be amazed.


The way we tell the Good News is important. We should be happy about what we have experienced in Christ and that will cause those whom we tell to reflect on what they hear. 


We must help others understand their sin, which is a serious thing. They must be brought to a point of conviction. But the Good News is intensely joyful when they fully understand their sin and that there is a Savior for them.




How does seeing the shepherd’s joy help us have joy in our lives? The thing that really convicted me as I pondered this passage was how their shepherds eagerly shared what they had experienced in Christ. Did they share their faith because of their joy? Or did were they joyful because they shared their faith? The answer is both. Joy both causes us to share our faith and comes from sharing our faith.


John Piper wrote,


I called my eighty-five-year-old father and said, “Daddy, I am writing a book on how to fight for joy. What one thing comes to your mind from sixty years of ministry as to what Christians could do to increase their joy?” Almost without hesitation he said, “Share their faith.” Joy in Christ thrives on being shared. That is the essence of Christian joy: It overflows or dies.


Now, I know some of us may groan, because we just don’t feel like we can be people who give everyone we talk to the four steps to becoming a Christian speech. It’s good if we could, but I don’t think that’s the only way to share your faith like the shepherds.


On the other hand, if we think that being a witness to Christ means keeping our noses clean and helping our neighbor, I don’t think that’s much good either. Why? Because unbelievers do all those things. Unbelievers share and give and love just as much as Christians do. Especially around the holidays. So doing good works like that doesn’t show Christ as much as it shows that you are a nice person. It’s a witness to you, not to Christ.


So what is sharing our faith like a shepherd like? It’s letting the joy you experience in the Lord bubble out of you. It’s letting Christ get sprinkled into your conversation. It’s being joyful in the Lord in your daily walk. And, like we have said already, as you let your joy out when you share your faith in Christ, your joy is going fill up again.


How do we sprinkle Christ into our conversations? Here are some ideas:


  • Talking about the weather? Mention that the Lord will give us what we need instead of saying, “Old mother nature is at it again.”
  • Instead of just saying, “fine,” when asked “How are you?” say that you are “happy.” Then they might ask why you are happy and that can lead to you saying, “I am saved by Jesus.”
  • If a friend tells you some good news, you can say, “Praise the Lord!”
  • In your morning devotions, try to find something that really strikes you to remember throughout the day. So when a friend asks you, “What’s new today?” (or one of the ten billion variations) instead of saying, “Oh, nothing, I suppose.” you can say, “I was reminded this morning of God’s goodness in John 3:16.”
  • Perhaps you know a bit of a foreign language. Learn to say something like, “Greetings in the Lord” or something like that in that language. Then when you say it, someone might ask, “What does that mean?”


Think about it—where could you slip Christ into a conversation more often? Not necessarily a full-blown gospel presentation, but just a little something that points to Christ and that bubbles out of the joy you have in him. When you do, joy will start welling up in you to fill you with more joy in Christ.


Norm Voss was a older man I knew back in Minnesota (he was in his eighties and nineties during my time there). He was a man who loved to share his faith in Christ with people like the shepherds did.


One day I looked out my office window to see the state highway asphalt truck in the church parking lot. They were filling a pothole. Standing by the truck, leaning on his cane, was Norm. When I went out to see him, with a beaming face he said, “I told these guys about Jesus and asked them to come and fill our pothole!”


I know we’re all a bit scared to speak anything about Christ to others, but when we do, how do we feel afterwards? Joy! Share Christmas joyfully with others and you will be joyful.

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