Home Commentary The Shepherds’ Holy Night: Fear, Confusion, Awe, and Joy

The Shepherds’ Holy Night: Fear, Confusion, Awe, and Joy


By Will Graham

Imagine you are a shepherd in ancient Israel: Your job is mundane, dirty, and maybe even a little frightening. You’re out in the wilderness, away from town, and the only light you see at night comes from the fire around which you are huddled and the moon hanging overhead. With that small field of vision, you’re supposed to not only keep track of your sheep, but also protect them from attack.

Suddenly, a supernatural brightness—“the glory of the Lord”—blinds your eyes, and there’s somebody there, unlike anything you’ve seen before. Perhaps you immediately realize that it’s the angel of the Lord, or maybe you are so consumed with confusion that it takes a minute to sink in that this being is from the heavenly realm. Either way, you’re so awe-struck that the angel’s first words are, “Do not be afraid.”

“Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”

I wonder if the shepherds collapsed to the ground during this overwhelming experience. We know they felt fear, of course, but imagine the flood of emotions as they begin to realize that the angel of the Lord is proclaiming the news of the arrival of the Messiah!

What is the Messiah? The One promised since Genesis 3, who would come and rescue all of mankind. For the Jewish people, this is the One they had been longing for. And the shepherds are some of the first to hear of His arrival.

If the knees of the shepherds hadn’t buckled by that point, you can be sure that they did when suddenly the skies lit up and one angel became “a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’”

It’s no surprise that they immediately ran to find the Child in the manger, and returned passionately glorifying and praising God!

Fear, confusion, awe, joy—the shepherds experienced the gamut of emotions that historic night.

How about you? As you read this passage, are you still filled with awe? Do you empathize with the confusion and fear? Can you feel their joy? If not, re-read Luke 2 and try to envision it from the shepherd’s perspective once again, and pray that the Holy Spirit will fill you with His joy this Christmas season.

Discussion Questions: As you contemplate Christmas, what are some ways that Jesus’ birth brings you joy? How is your life different today because of that pivotal moment in Bethlehem?

Prayer: Dear God, This Christmas season, help me to focus on the incredible heavenly appearing of Jesus in this world, and what that has meant for all of mankind. Renew my passion for You. Rekindle in me the joy of my salvation! In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

Jesus came to save the world from the grip of sin. But first you must ask Him to forgive your sins and be part of your life. You can do that right now.

Will Graham is the Vice President and Associate Evangelist at the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. For more information on the BGEA, visit  https://billygraham.org. This article was reprinted with permission.