Summary: The shepherds were attentive, in awe, they accepted, the acted and they adored.
The Shepherds’ Joy about Jesus
Rev. Brian Bill
A survey was done to see which characters from the advent account most people identify with. How many of you think its Mary? Joseph? The wise guys? Anyone for Herod? Not surprisingly, the shepherds came out on top by far. When I was young I always wanted to play a shepherd but was usually relegated to the role of a rock or I was told to just stand still and act like a palm tree. I can’t imagine why I was never given a more important part!
Most of us are pretty comfortable with the Christmas story. Maybe we’re so familiar that it’s become part fable and part legend in our minds. Some have sentimentalized it so much that they skim along on a superficial level, counting down the remaining shopping days, stressing about all the things to do, while neglecting the Nativity. It reminds me of the little girl who misquoted John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only forgotten Son.” The music this morning has helped us remember that the baby who was born in Bethlehem is Jesus, the Son of God, who brings great joy today.
The shepherds received news about the gift that still goes on. And because of what they did with this gift, we too can sing joy to the world! I find it very interesting that God chose to send the birth announcement about His Son to shepherds. Luke 2:8 doesn’t tell us much about who they were. No adjectives are used to describe them: “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby…”
Throughout the history of Israel, shepherding was a noble profession. Abel was the first to have this job, followed by Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses and of course, David. God calls Himself a shepherd and we’re compared to sheep, which is anything but a compliment. By the time we come to the first century however, shepherding has lost its luster. Shepherds made up the lowest class of people, coming in just ahead of the lepers. In the Talmud, which is a collection of interpretations and insight from the rabbis, we read these words: “No help is to be given to heathen or shepherds.”
In order to understand how unusual it was to have the angels appear to these lowly shepherds, let’s learn a bit about them:
• Considered ceremonially unclean. Because of the nature of their work they were unable to attend any religious services.
• Isolated and forgotten. Because their flocks needed to move around to find new grass and fresh water, they never stayed in one place for long.
• Treated with contempt and mistrust. They were suspected of stealing from others and would often confuse “thine” with “mine.” Their testimony was never allowed in court because they were so unreliable.
• Known to be brash and bold. Living out in the fields away from society made them unappealing to most people. Most of them had foul mouths and were ready to fight at the drop of a hat.
Princess Diana is in the news again, ten years after her death. Imagine if you will that when her sons Prince Harry and Prince William were born, that instead of all the media attention and birth announcements to presidents and heads of state, the news of their births was delivered only to dock workers unloading cargo in the middle of the night.
God entrusted the greatest message ever sent from heaven to a bunch of smelly shepherds. Actually, this isn’t so unusual, is it? God has always worked wonders for the forgotten, for the despised, and for the lowly. From the very beginning of his time on earth, Jesus came to those who felt horrible and were humble. Matthew 9:12-13: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick…For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” Jesus reached out to sinners like Zacchaeus and Levi, prostitutes and the demon possessed, strangers and Samaritans. He did in His ministry what the Father did in a borrowed stable when the lowly shepherds looked at the Lord as the cattle were lowing. Mary captured this in her song recorded in Luke 1:52: “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” Paul said it this way in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29: “Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth…He chose the lowly things of the world and the despised things…so that no one may boast before Him.”
It doesn’t say, “Now there were in the same region scribes keeping watch over their scrolls.” The Lord comes to the lowly, to the most undeserving, to the neglected and marginalized in order to show His power. The Shepherds help us see that God has a message for sinners just like us. Everyone matters to God. And the only announcement of Christ’s birth goes out to a bunch of uneducated outcasts. Indeed, as the song says: What a strange way to the save the world! As we briefly look at the shepherds’ response, we’ll see some lessons that we can apply to our lives so that we don’t forget the Son this season.