Summary: It was lowly shepherds who got the most impressive announcement about the birth of the Messiah. That tells us a lot about the God we serve.
I think the presence of the shepherds has to be one of my favorite parts of the Christmas story. They don’t say much. They don’t do much. But it sure was important to God that they be there for the birth of Jesus. And that says a lot. When the time came to tell Zechariah about the birth of John the Baptist, God sent one angel. When the time came to tell Mary about the birth of Jesus, God sent one angel. When the time came to announce the birth of Jesus to the shepherds, he sent a whole sky full of angels.
If you were planning to launch a political campaign, a new business or a new product line, who would you plan to invite first? It would be people who have money or power. And that’s sure not shepherds. I bet if you asked people in the first century who should be invited to the coming out party for the Messiah the list would start with the high priests, some religious scholars. A few might say King Herod. He was the king after all, but he was a really cruel king, so I think that if he ever made it onto an invitation list it would have been only temporary. He would have gotten scratched pretty quickly. But who got the first invitation?
Shepherds, shepherds who had been sleeping outside. Can you remember ever sleeping outside?
In recent years whenever we have camped out the campgrounds have had good showers and a good, hot shower always feels good. But I remember some campouts when I was a kid, especially in boy scouts where there weren’t any showers and boy did it feel good to get home and get the dirt and the smell of the campfire smoke off and really get cleaned up. And that was just after a couple of days, and we were sleeping in a tent. We don’t know how long the shepherds had been camping out. And if they had any tent at all I’m sure it didn’t have a sealed floor like our tents today.
I’ve been part of a lot of Sunday School Christmas programs over the years and I’ve seen how the moms or teachers care for our shepherd robes. They are hung up carefully all year. If a little boy takes his off and throws it on the ground it gets picked up right away and it might get ironed. But if we really wanted authentic shepherd costumes for next years’ Christmas program, we should have the kids sleep in their robes for a week and then drag them around the barn yard a few times. Drag the robes, I mean, not the kids.
And it was shepherds who got invited right into the makeshift nursery to admire that little baby who was the newborn Son of God.
When the angels told the shepherds their good news they said it was “good news of great joy for all the people.” And if the shepherds were included, then it really was for all people. And if they were included, then there is room for us, too.
If we translated the story into our modern economy, well we don’t have many shepherds around. To whom would God have sent the angels? Maybe to Mexican immigrant workers, maybe to someone who has been laid off and unemployed for 6 months, maybe to someone who is new in town and a stranger to everyone. And if it’s good news of great joy for all the people, then there is room for us, too.
That’s the kind of God we serve. I’ve just finished reading through the Prophet Isaiah in my own personal devotions and one of my favorite verses in the whole Bible is Isaiah 57:15: “For thus says the high and lofty one who inhabits eternity, whose name is Holy: I dwell in the high and holy place, and also with those who are contrite and humble in spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite.” That’s the God of the Old Testament. He loves the humble.
And Jesus is just the same in the New Testament. He started his life about as humbly as you can, in a manger in a stable. He always seemed to end up with the blind and the lame, the lepers and social outcasts. He even touched lepers. Nobody else did that. He wasn’t above doing the dirty work himself. He got down and washed the feet of his disciples, even when they were having stupid arguments about who was greatest.
God loves humble people. And that’s a message for our time when so many things are tilting for the rich and the poor are falling farther and farther behind. This Christmas, remember that God has a special place in his heart for the people who are on the bottom. That’s a message about what our God is like for this Christmas morning.