From the Word
8 And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Be not afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of a great joy which will come to all the people; 11 for to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, 14 “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among men with whom he is pleased!”
Luke 2:8–14, RSV
The shepherds were in the field, under the canopy of heaven, and not in houses, showing that they do not cling to temporal things. They are in the fields by night, unknown to the world which sleeps in the night, and by day delights to walk that it may be noticed. They represent all the lowly who live on earth, often despised and unnoticed but dwell only under the protection of heaven; they eagerly desire the gospel.
That they were “shepherds,” means that no one is to hear the gospel alone for himself, but every one is to tell it to others who are not acquainted with it. For he who believes for himself has enough and should endeavor to bring others to such faith and knowledge, so that one may be a shepherd of the other to lead him into the pasture of the gospel in this world, during the night time of this earthly life. At first the shepherds were sore afraid because of the angel; for human nature is shocked when it first hears the gospel that all our own works are nothing and are condemned before God, for it does not easily give up its prejudices and presumptions.
Now let every one examine himself in the light of the gospel to see how far he is from Christ, what is the character of his faith and love. Many are enkindled with dreamy devotion, when they hear of the poverty of Christ, are almost angry with the citizens of Bethlehem, denounce their blindness and ingratitude, and think, if they had been there, they would have shown the Lord and his mother a more becoming service, and would not have permitted them to be treated so miserably. But they do not look by their side to see how many of their fellow men need their aid, whom they let go on in their misery unaided. It is altogether wrong for you to think that you have done much for Christ, when you have done nothing for those needy ones. Had you been in Bethlehem you would have paid as little attention to Christ as they did; but since it is now made known who Christ is, you profess to serve him, but you would hardly have done it before.
Martin Luther and John Sander, Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year (Rock Island, IL: Augustana Book Concern, 1915), 454–455.