Shepherds Were Considered Low Class in Israel. So Why did Angels Come to THEM?

The Christmas story starts with shepherds. Really? It’s quite a humble start to an amazing story…
“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.” (Luke 2:8-10 NIV)

Normally if a King was coming into the world, it would have been in a palace, and there would have been great fanfare over the birth of an heir to the throne. News would have been sent out from the palace with trumpets and proclamations so that everyone could hear the big news! Royal family members and political insiders would have been the first to hear the news, and it would have spread from there.

In Luke’s account about the new-born king, however, the news did not come from the palace but from the pasture, sent to a group that was more often than not marginalized by religious society. Even in God’s economy, this did not seem like a logical choice. Shepherds were not the first group almost anybody would have picked to receive the good news of Jesus’ birth. (Why not priests or soldiers, or somebody from the palace?) Any Messiah maker with good sense would have proclaimed the news of the Savior’s arrival to the High Priest, or a governor, or someone with influence and a platform; maybe somebody who could get the news on TV.

Why was Jesus born then and there, before God could take advantage of all of our modern media and technology? Looking back, doesn’t it seem like God used really poor judgment in His timing for the Advent? As a point of fact, because of their remote workplace and pastoral schedule, shepherds were usually ceremonially unclean, and unfit to even enter the Temple. Because of that they were far down the list that any Hebrew sage or leader would have used to announce something important. As it was written in “Jesus Christ, Superstar”: “You’d have managed better if you had it planned; why’d you choose such a backward time and such a strange land? If you’d have come today you would have reached a whole nation; Israel in 4 BC had no mass communication.”

Why was Jesus born in such a primitive time? Why did God choose to send angels out into the countryside to announce the news to mere shepherds? Some say they were loners, always out by themselves following sheep around. It was a humble job away from the limelight. Some also say shepherds were not the most social of guys, maybe not too high on the Bethlehem social ladder, and not the first guys you’d invite home to dinner… These particular shepherds may have been watching over the ceremonial flocks kept outside of Jerusalem, full of unblemished lambs and goats destined for slaughter at the temple. It was an ironic religious fact that such men were often considered unfit to enter the temple they served…

On the other hand, David was a shepherd, and he developed pretty fair fighting skills, wrote songs and Psalms, and ended up having a pretty notable career. I think the angel appeared to shepherds as a subtle nod to Jesus’ ancestry, and as a reminder that great things can have humble beginnings. If these shepherds indeed watched over the flocks destined for sacrifice, then it’s impossible to overlook the direct connection to the lamb of God.

At any rate when they heard the announcement, these shepherds carried the “good news that will cause great joy” into town and out to the surrounding areas; out of the hillsides and into history. And you know what? They may not have had TV or the internet, but amazingly enough the shepherds’ story is still being told, and is well known in today’s modern media age… Perhaps God knew what He was doing after all by announcing the good news when and where He did! Two things: does this good news bring you great joy? (I hope so!) And who are you telling about it? Perhaps someone you know is waiting to be carried from the hillsides into history. And into heaven as well.

There, on the hills near Bethlehem, the plaintive, restless flock
Was destined for Jerusalem as sacrificial stock.
Trying to sleep on a fitful night,
We heard a sound–almost took flight–
Awakened by a glorious light, astounded by the startling sight
Of a messenger whose voice instills
Great fear, and brought us shepherds chills
Out there, alone up in the hills…
He gave us tidings of great joy!
“There is a King! A newborn boy!
They’ll call his name Immanuel!”
With that, a choir began to swell
And sing of glory, peace as well,
As we were captive to its spell:
He told us, then, to go and tell…
Well after that, what could we do?
We went! We found the babe! It’s true!
Of all the things I’ve done, and not done yet,
That is the thing I can’t –I won’t– forget.
Whatever I may do, or men may say,
Say this: I was in Bethlehem that day,
And saw the child, in the manger where he lay…

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