There were Shepherds

I just submitted this to the local newspaper for their Christmas edition and thought I would share it here as well.

This late 15th-century Flemish miniature shows the annunciation to the shepherds.

This late 15th-century Flemish miniature shows the annunciation to the shepherds.

Sometime during this Christmas season, all of us will hear the familiar story of the angels and the shepherds.  The picture of the shepherds living in the fields with their flocks, and the visit of the angels to bring them the good news of the birth of the Christ child, brings with it a sense of romance, of excitement, of the unexpected.

We need to wonder though, why God decided to let the shepherds be the first to hear this good news. It might be because Jesus was born in the middle of the night, and they were the only ones awake. It might be because they wandered from place to place and would provide the best social network, since the internet had not yet been invented. It could be that the angels, like some of the angels we see in movies, got their directions mixed up, and ended up in the fields, rather than downtown Bethlehem, but, told their story anyway.  All of these things could be, but I don’t think they are.

God chose these shepherds to hear this news, this good news, very deliberately.  Shepherds were likely on the lowest rung of society’s ladder. They had the hopeless, dead end job, of watching sheep while the owners of those sheep slept soundly in their warm beds. They worked the midnight shift seven days a week, with little chance of ever actually owning a sheep themselves. They were out in all weather, and when they did get to town, they were not welcomed into the more prosperous homes; they had no place in the more upright, deserving parts of society.  Their lives were hard, they were looked down on, they had little hope and virtually no way to better themselves.

It is to these folks, on the edge of society, God sends his angelic messengers with words of hope. “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.  Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.” For centuries the people of Israel had waited for, longed for, the coming of the Messiah, and now, when he has finally come, God chooses to announce the news to undeserving poor shepherds, first. It happens this way to let everyone know that this good news really is for all people, and not just for those who seem to deserve it. God has come to earth as a child and is turning everything upside down, beginning with the announcement of his birth.

This good news first shared with the shepherds is good news for us today as well. We want to somehow bring our sense of deserving into the picture at Christmas time. We tell our children about Santa keeping lists of who has been naughty or nice and warn them that their place on those lists will affect how Santa rewards them on Christmas Day. Christ’s coming into the world, has nothing to do with our being entitled to anything. He comes as a free gift, the first Christmas gift, a gift of love to a world without hope.

The shepherds went to see if the wonderful news was true and they found a baby, wrapped in a few rags, lying in a feed bunk. This news of hope, of love, is as alive today as it was on that first Christmas.  Do not be afraid, there is good news, a Savior has been born to us, the Messiah has come!

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