Were there three Wise Men? That’s what the song says… “We three kings…” The Bible doesn’t reveal their number, but because they brought three gifts, “gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11), we might have assumed that there were three.
How about Bethlehem’s shepherds? How many of them came to see the Infant King, “lying in a manger”? (Luke 2:12). My wife’s nativity set has three. Again, the Bible doesn’t give us a number. For the moment, let’s imagine that there were three.
The three were just young teenagers with peach fuzz growing on their chins. They were from poor families. While some of their friends were attending synagogue school, the three shepherds were earning a few pennies to help with expenses at home.
Stars hung in the clear-night sky, illuminating the hillside above the sleeping village below. The lambs inside the small pen were not their own. They were owned by an investor, somebody in cahoots with the high priest who would sell them to pilgrims during the Jewish Passover celebration in a few weeks. The three boys, huddled close to the glowing campfire, dozed peacefully.
Unexpectedly, with no warning, something… no, someone, appeared before them, jolting them to attention. Fear gripped their hearts as a bright light, like a thousand candles, surrounded the visitor.
“Don’t be afraid, for look, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people: Today in the city of David a Savior was born for you, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped tightly in cloth and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).
Don’t be afraid? It’s too late for that! Good news? The long-promised Messiah? The Son of Great King David? It stretched their imagination! But, wrapped in cloth, sleeping in a feed-trough? Never! That couldn’t happen!
“Suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying: Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people he favors!” (Luke 2:13-14). A thousand, maybe ten thousand, robed in white… singing a joy-filled melody that human ears had never heard!
The fear that had rivetted the three shepherds was replaced by awe, wonder, utter astonishment! Then, as suddenly as the angel-choir had appeared, they disappeared, leaving the three lads alone. Once again, the fire-light flickered dimly and the lambs lay undisturbed.
“Let’s go… and see!” (Luke 2:15). Minutes later, the three young shepherds found Him, just as the angels had foretold. Tiny. Wrapped in strips of tattered cloth. Lying in a manger. The Messiah had come to earth and was revealed to the most unlikely, the most improbable… to poor and unimportant shepherd-boys… boys who would never be the same again. “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had seen and heard” (Luke 2:20). Why shepherds? Grace!