8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:8-12)
The savior of the world is being born. Angels are ready to make the announcement. Magi are already beginning their trek across hostile lands. Who will be the first to hear the good news? Who will be the Messiah’s first visitors? The Chief Priest? The Pharisees and Sadducees? King Herod?
Shepherds. No good, dirty, lying, unclean shepherds. They were considered the dregs of society. They weren’t trusted. They weren’t even allowed to testify in a court of law.
And God chose them. God chose them to be the first ones to hear the announcement of “good news of great joy that will be for all people.” It wasn’t the religious elite or the high and mighty. It wasn’t anyone we might expect. Shepherds.
Why? Why would God “waste” such good news on people so…despised, outcast, marginalized, disliked?
Maybe they had time and were willing to listen. With all the hustle and bustle of the census; with all the tensions of the Roman Empire; with all the religious duties to perform…maybe they were the ones who were available. Maybe they would listen.
And more than just listen, they responded. Remember when the Magi came to see King Herod and he called the religious people to find out where the Messiah was to be born, not one of them went to Bethlehem to check things out…not one! But after the lowly shepherds heard the angel army proclaim the original “Hallelujah Chorus”, we read:
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (Luke 2:15-20)
The shepherds went to see if what the angels said was true. They spread the word about the child to everyone who would listen. Many were amazed but did they go? Did they check things out? We don’t know. But the shepherds went back to the fields glorifying and praising God because everything was just like the angels said.
I think there might be a second reason God chose to reveal the Messiah to lowly shepherds. Our King is also a Shepherd…and a lamb. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep (John 10:11). And he is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the whole world (John 1:29).
Despite their lowly status, God identifies the Messiah with shepherds and sheep throughout the Scriptures. Jesus, 6 who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death— even death on a cross! (Philippians 2:6-8).
Isaiah 40:11 – He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.
Ezekiel 34:23-24 – I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.
Isaiah 53:5-7 – He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
Mark 2:17 – Jesus said to them, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”
Jesus, the Messiah, the Savior born to us that first Christmas day in Bethlehem – he came for the sick and the sinners, not those who think they’re healthy and righteous. He came gently, as a shepherd tending his flock. He laid down his life for his sheep. He became the Lamb who takes away sin.
From the beginning of Jesus’ earthly life, God makes it clear that everything will be turned upside down. Nothing will be as it was expected. He doesn’t come to establish an earthly kingdom or to overthrow an earthly government. He comes and invites people – all people – to enter into God’s Kingdom…not of this world; now but not yet; inaugurated in his first coming and to be fully consummated at his second.
But it all began with shepherds. They were available. They listened. They responded.
This Christmas, what will you do?