Summary: God takes ordinary people like you and like me and He calls us to share an extraordinary message of love, grace and mercy that begins with the birth of the Savior.
Do you ever feel like you don’t really matter to God? Do you ever think that God is so busy running the universe that He doesn’t have time to be concerned about your insignificant life? Do you ever feel like you really don’t have anything of worth to offer to God? I think if we’re honest, all of us have had those kinds of feelings at times.
This morning we’re going to look at the account of a group of people who probably felt a lot like that. And we’re going to see how the first Christmas was God’s demonstration that all lives really do matter and that God cares deeply about every single one of us.
We’ll be looking at a portion of Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus in Luke 2 this morning. I’ll begin reading in verse 8:
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
Most of us are probably so familiar with this account that we miss out on the wonder of it all. Here we have the only announcement of Jesus’ birth recorded in the Scriptures. And to whom does God make that announcement? Certainly not to the people we would expect. The mayor of Bethlehem doesn’t get the announcement. It doesn’t go to the High Priest in Jerusalem. Caesar and the members of his royal court don’t get the announcement. Instead the announcement is made to a bunch of uneducated, smelly, low-class, social and religious outcasts who are keeping watch over their flocks.
Why the shepherds? Some have suggested it is because Jesus would be a shepherd in the line of other great shepherds in Israel’s history – people like Moses and David. Isaiah had prophesied that the Messiah would shepherd God’s people (Isaiah 40:11). And later in His life Jesus would refer to Himself as the “Good Shepherd.”
Perhaps that is true, but I think there is a simpler explanation. In order to understand that we need to consider what it was like to be a shepherd during the time Jesus was born. These shepherds were certainly much different than the cute, clean cut little shepherd boys we see in our nativity sets or Christmas pageants. These men certainly didn’t live what we often picture as the “All-American” life.
They didn’t have a trophy wife, two kids, a dog and a nice house in the suburbs with two cars in the garage. They didn’t have a 9-5 job where they kissed their wives and kids good bye in the morning and then came home and had dinner with them and tucked the kids into bed at night.
They were crude and harsh in their language, uneducated and unsophisticated men. They spent day and night with the sheep they tended. There were no showers and no washing machines so they didn’t look good and they didn’t smell good. They had the reputation, sometimes deserved and sometimes not, of being thieves. They were considered to be so untrustworthy that they were not permitted to testify in court. As a result they were the social outcasts in their culture.
Their occupation also made it impossible for them to meet the myriad of manmade regulations that had been heaped on top of the Mosaic Law. So they were considered too “unclean” to participate in the worship in the Temple and therefore were also religious outcasts of their time.
So again we must ask, “Why the shepherds?” I am convinced that the reason God chose to announce the birth of the Messiah to these lowly shepherds is that He wanted to demonstrate that His love does not discriminate on the basis of class, or wealth, or social standing or even religiosity. God does not show favoritism. He does not give preference to one group over another. His salvation is made available to all on the same basis – faith in Jesus alone.
When I think about that idea, I’m reminded of the words of Paul:
For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.
(1 Corinthians 1:26-29 ESV)
God chose to announce the birth of His Son to these shepherds because it meant that the focus would be on the message and not the messengers. And as a result, God, and not any man would get the glory.
Maybe this morning you can identify with those shepherds. Maybe you feel like a social or a religious outcast on the outside looking in. Maybe on the surface things look like they are going well, but deep inside you feel like you don’t fit in. Maybe you think that even if God is aware of you – which you doubt – He doesn’t really think a whole lot of you. If that describes your life at all, then the passage we’re looking at this morning is not just good news – it is great news! While the coming of a Savior into the world is good news for everyone, it is especially good news for those who are overlooked and looked down upon by the rest of the world.