When I pause long enough to consider the miracle of God sending His son into the world to be my Savior, I inevitably come away with another insight which I hadn’t seen before. This year I’m stunned by God’s choice of the shepherds to announce the birth of Jesus. Candidly, if I were writing the script, I’m pretty sure I would have picked a different cast of characters to bring the ultimate Good News.
During the time of Jesus’ birth, to be a shepherd was almost as socially toxic as being a leper. Shepherds were outcasts. For example, even though shepherds raised animals for use in the temple sacrifices (among other things), they themselves were considered “unclean” and, as such, were not permitted to set foot into the temple.
Not only were shepherds engaged in a smelly, dirty, and nomadic profession, they were considered to be unreliable witnesses in matters of law. In fact, if you were a shepherd who witnessed a crime, you were unworthy to give testimony in a court of Jewish law.
Think about this supreme irony: God sent His angels to these “unreliable witnesses” asking them to testify to the “good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” God could have sent His heavenly messengers to the king, the governor, the high priest, or to some other “trustworthy” source to ensure a more credible proclamation. The Savior of the world had arrived—what could be more important? Why would God choose to broadcast the best news of all times, namely, the birth of Jesus, through a ragtag group of nomads rather than go straight to the upper crust of society?
Before offering an answer, here’s a modern day equivalent to help us appreciate the radical nature of God’s unlikely approach. It would be as if God had sent His angels today to a hospice, or a group of homeless men, or lifers on death row with the news of Jesus’ birth—rather than informing the president, political or religious leaders first. Crazy, right? Or is it?
As I’ve thought about this, I think one reason God went to the shepherds was so that mankind would know this Good News is, yes, for all people, but especially for the marginalized, the undesirable, and the disenfranchised. I resonate with that probably because most of my childhood was spent living as an orphan and outside of “normal.” It’s comforting for me to know God is no respecter of persons. He sent His son for all of us.
One more thought.
Isn’t it cool how the Great Shepherd, Jesus, who was to be the final sacrifice, was first introduced to earthly shepherds who raised sheep for a sacrifice they couldn’t participate in? God was saying, in effect, come one, come all. No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, no matter how others may despise you, you are welcome to partake in the forgiveness offered by Jesus.
Now that’s something to marvel about this Christmas!