Summary: There is a danger that we have become so familiar with the story of Jesus that we begin to think everyone is.
What if no one told the Story?
Surveys are done on just about every subject now. One was taken with church members asking then which character in the Christmas story they most identified with. Mary? Joseph? The shepherds? The wise men? Most people who answered the question said they identified with the shepherds. That is not surprising to me.
Most of us are pretty comfortable with the Christmas story. Perhaps you have seen this picture before. It has also been used as an ornament. And it is a reminder of what the season is really all about. For too many I think it is about the number of shopping days until Christmas, maxing out the credit card and running here and there trying to get ready for Christmas. Haven’t you noticed that if you ask someone if they are all ready for Christmas their answer is always based on whether they have all of their shopping done or not. Because that is what it is about to many people. In my hometown a woman had stopped to look at the manger scene in a store window. As she stood there admiring the manger another shopper walked by and said imagine that, the church trying to horn in on Christmas! It reminds me of the little girl who misquoted John 3:16 and said “for God so loved the world that He gave His only forgotten Son.” The music this morning has reminded us that Christmas is not about shopping and racing to get everything done. It is about Jesus who came into this world to bring salvation and peace to people who desperately need both.
The shepherds were the first to hear the story. I find it to be very interesting that God gave this first announcement—an announcement people had been waiting on for several thousand years—it’s interesting to me that he chose the shepherds as the first to hear it.
v. 8. doesn’t tell us much about who they were. It simply says there were shepherds living in the fields nearby. Beyond that we know nothing else about them. The first shepherd in the Bible was a man named Abel. Cain’s brother. There are many others we also know about…Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, David—all were shepherds. God calls himself a shepherd. And you and I are compared to sheep—which is not exactly a compliment by the way.
By the time we get to the first century A.D. shepherds were no longer in the same class of people. They had in a sense been demoted. Here are a few things we need to know about shepherds at this time.
• Shepherds were considered to be unclean. As a result they were not allowed to attend any religious services.
• Shepherds lived a life of isolation. They were very transient. Because their flocks needed grass and fresh water, they never stayed in one place for long.
• Shepherds were not trusted. They were suspected of stealing from others and because they often were not truthful they were not even allowed to testify in court.
So God entrusted the greatest message ever sent from heaven to a bunch of smelly, uncouth shepherds. It shouldn’t surprise us because from the beginning of time he has come to lift up those who have found themselves at the bottom of the ladder.
• He chose David to be King—a man who committed murder and adultery
• He chose Hosea who was married to a prostitute
• He shoes the apostle Paul who was also a murderer and who described himself as chief of sinners.
When Jesus came he said these words—I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners. It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. So he went to the prostitutes, the demon possessed, the lepers and also to the shepherds.
Did you know Mary, the Virgin Mary wrote a song? It is found in Luke chpt. 1 and she says that Jesus “has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good thong but has sent the rich away empty.” The apostle Paul tells us that God has a message for sinners just like you and me. Aren’t you glad? Everyone matters to Jesus.
I find in the shepherds 4 characteristics that Jesus is looking for in the people He uses.
1. They were attentive. Luke 2:8. They were so committed to their career that they never left their work. They worked the first shift, the 2nd shift; then the 3rd. This was a 24/7 deal for them. They were faithful. They were as the Bible says keeping watch. It was often the case that different flocks would come together at night and would all come into the same fold. They were surrounded by what is known as a sheep pen, a wall of rocks with one opening and one of the shepherds would literally lie across the entrance to make sure none of the sheep could get in and no trespassers; no predators could get in. For either to happen they would have to go through the shepherd.