God likes shepherds. Just think about it. Moses was a shepherd for forty years. David was a shepherd before he became king. Jesus is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11). Of the twenty-one verses that Luke devotes to Jesus’ birth, thirteen of those are about the shepherds. That’s almost two-thirds.
Hired field hands. Unskilled labor. It was one step above unemployment: the graveyard shift, with constant exposure to the weather and meager pay, no education requirements and minimal on-the-job training. It was boring, thankless, and smelly.
So you have to ask, “Why?” (At least I have to ask. Maybe you don’t, but I ask God a lot of questions.) Of all the options God had…of all the population segments he could have chosen (even among the working class)…why choose shepherds? I think the answer is in the question. It’s one of those surprising things God does that is so very far from what we would expect of God, which is why He does it. Can we just delight in that fact for a second?
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. 1 Corinthians 1:27-29
The shepherds could celebrate
God chose them exactly because they were such an unlikely choice. Because the wise, the strong, the important all try to take some of the glory for themselves. As Paul puts it, they boast in front of Him. But shepherds? They knew better than to boast. They understood their proper position before the God of the Universe. They could just celebrate without self-consciousness. Oh, that we were all a bit more like the shepherds…except without the stink.
Let’s take a look at a couple of interesting things about the shepherds.
They don’t doubt.
The shepherds went to Bethlehem for the spectacle, not because they were skeptical.
After the angels leave, the shepherds don’t sit around and discuss what just happened. They don’t wonder if they hallucinated, neither do they question what the angel really said. In other words, they never doubt the veracity of the angels’ message. When they say, “Let’s go…see this thing” (2:15), they go for the spectacle, not because they are skeptical.
This response demonstrates an already-burgeoning faith because they haven’t actually seen anything yet. Later, Jesus will say, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
When they got a word from God, they “hurried off” (2:16). Yep—hurried. Not “wandered,” not “made a plan.” Do we hurry to grab a bigger chunk of what God is doing? I know I’m more likely to doubt, then pray, then plan, then get distracted…until the opportunity has slipped by unheeded and I’m found disobedient despite having received a clear word from the Lord.
They start sharing.
As soon as the shepherds see Jesus in Bethlehem, they start spreading the word. I imagine they crowd into the stable (or whatever it is), some peeking in through the windows, some carrying baby lambs, some leaving their shepherd’s crooks outside the door. After a few “oohs” and “ahhs,” it dawns on them that this news is too good to keep to themselves. One by one, they remember someone they know in town, maybe a relative or the guy who runs the candle stand, and they step away to find that person. In a few minutes, they come back half-leading, half-dragging a still-groggy cousin or a grumbling shopkeeper. Those secondary people realize what has happened and are “amazed at what the shepherds said” (2:18). They, in turn, go back to get even more people. Perhaps this is what Mary “treasured up…and pondered in her heart” (2:19).
The shepherds were counted worthy of greeting the Messiah!
Only later do the shepherds return, “glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen” (2:20). They were counted worthy of greeting the Messiah and of telling others! We’ve also been counted worthy, haven’t we?
Welcome to the world that you created, Jesus!
…and Merry Christmas, friends.