Summary: Why would God announce the Savior's birth to a group of lowly shepherds first? The answer is the heart of the gospel.
Every Christmas, there is an “it” toy. The most popular toy that everyone wants, and no one can find. These days, it is usually something that plugs in or has a screen. But I found a site this week that lists the most popular toy from every year since 1963.
• I was born in 1966: The most popular toy that year? Twister
• In 1975, it was a Pet Rock. Believe it or not, over a million and a half people paid $4.00 each for this. It was a box, with air holes, lined with straw, containing… a rock. Good news—you didn’t have to flush it down the toilet when it died.
• 1977: Star Wars. Here’s a fun fact: The demand for Star Wars action figures was incredibly high around the holidays in 1977, so Kenner created an "early bird" package, which means kids could send away for the first four action figures and receive them in early 1978. You would think they would have learned their lesson by now, and anticipated the demand. But has anyone looked for a baby yoda this year?
• 1995: Beanie Babies. At the height of the Beanie Baby craze, they made up 10% of all traffic on Ebay.
Now here’s the question: how many of you have gotten obsessed with finding the “it” toy in a particular year, but a year later, or six months later, or even a week later, your kid had no interest in it whatsoever? (Exhibit A: Zhu Zhu Pets, 2009)
This is because there is a difference between gifts that bring happiness, and gifts that bring joy. Every year, we spend billions of dollars trying to fill the happiness vacuum. But when the angels appeared to the shepherds on the outskirts of Bethlehem, their message wasn’t, “For unto you is available this day in the Prattville Wal-Mart, the last Tickle Me Elmo (1996) in the Southeast. Let’s look at what the message was: Let’s look at Luke 2, beginning in verse 8. If you are physically able, please stand to honor the reading of God’s Word.
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”[a]
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.
One of the first questions we ask when we start studying this well known passage is, “why shepherds?” if you had “good news of great joy” which would be infinitely, eternally better than the release of the Rubik’s Cube (1980), wouldn’t you want an awesome marketing campaign? Wouldn’t you want a famous spokesperson? Wouldn’t you want to launch with a multi-million dollar Super Bowl ad, directed by Michael Bay? Why Shepherds?
Because Shepherds know how to find a lamb
Shepherds in general were not greatly respected during the time of Jesus. They were often regarded as dishonest and prone to violating Jewish law. Shepherds couldn’t testify in a court of law. It was forbidden to buy wool, milk, or a kid from a shepherd because it was assumed to be stolen property.
And keep in mind that these shepherds in particular were “keeping watch over the flock by night.” What does it take to pull the third shift as a shepherd? My guess is that they were probably younger. They lacked seniority. “Third shift” shepherds: not high up in the pecking order.