Summary: the lowliest were the first to get the good news of Jesus' birth
We have been a little out of sequence telling the Nativity story, but this week we finish the story with the first people who were told about and saw the Christ Child.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of heavenly host praising God and saying: "Glory to God in the highest, And on earth peace, goodwill toward men (Luke 2:13-14)
In Luke 2:8 we are told that the first persons who hear about the coming of this
son of man,
this Messiah from God,
By the first century the status of being a “shepherd” had definitely sunk low. Being a shepherd had become categorized as in the same class as being a tax collector, or an unclean outcast. Shepherds were considered to be borderline “unclean,” defined as unlawful and untrustworthy. They were either despised or mistrusted by all those who had “risen above” to become city dwellers.
Shepherds lived on the land with their sheep, infrequently or never took baths, smelled like sheep. Their job was to watch out for and herd sheep from one place to another. Now, we all coo and ah at a picture of a little lamb. But sheep, as a whole, are really dumb animals. If not tended, they will all follow the leader off a cliff to their death. So shepherds didn’t need to be very bright – all they had to do was keep the sheep from getting into trouble or eaten by other animals. Not the brightest members of the community.
But, remember, Jesus said he was the
Good Shepherd (John 10:11).
So maybe it was not unusual that the news of his birth was told first to shepherds.
Imagine the shepherds settling in for the night, putting the sheep to sleep and resting from a long day of herding. Maybe they were eating their meager rations before going to sleep themselves. They had seen the star that was brighter than all others, but probably didn’t think anything of it.
All of the sudden the sky gets a bright as noon, and an angel appears. Imagine how frightening that must have been. I am sure they trembled and were frightened; I know I would have been. But
The angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ The Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. (Luke 2:10-12)
What did the shepherds understand that night?
We'll never know. But they must have known that there was something very special about the child, announced by a choir of angels. Some of them were probably scared and frozen in their tracks. Others may have been curious enough to want to go into Bethlehem to see what all the fuss was about. I imagine there was a lot of talking among themselves about what they should do – if they went to Bethlehem, who would stay with the sheep. Who was brave enough to stay back or curious enough to go into Bethlehem. Scripture tells us:
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 (Luke 2:10-15)
So some of the shepherds went into Bethlehem to the stable to be the first visitors for the Christ Child, a Messiah born to redeem all humanity.
So today we have completed the nativity story and all the members of the people at the birth of Jesus has been completed.
Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church on Capitol Square, Columbus, OH; 28 December 2014