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. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told. (NIV)
One question regarding the birth of Christ has been analyzed for centuries. Why did the Angel of the Lord appear before the Shepherds?
Shepherds were not high up on the social ladder. They were outcasts who struggled and scraped to make a living. Most were considered vagrants and con men and certainly not worthy of a visit from a multitude of angels.
And yet, the angel came to the shepherds as they watched over their flocks and brought a multitude of heavenly hosts along. The angel told them “Do not be afraid.”
The Lord called himself a shepherd and referred to those he loved as his flock and he told them, “Fear not. I am with you always.” Even the black sheep, even the worst of society.
Is this why God sent the angel to these men so soon after Christ was born? Because they knew all about watching over their flocks? They knew how to corral stray lambs and keep their sheep safe and feed. Since they were hindered by society’s demands, they couldn’t help but spread the news out of shock and awe and amazement. They were every man.
Or maybe it’s because King David was a shepherd who stood up to a giant. This is certainly part of the lineage that eventually gave us Christ. Christ stood up to his own giant—Sin. He was like one of those little lambs because he sacrificed himself for us. Shepherds knew of the sacrificial lambs and sometimes raised them for this very purpose.
Did God consider the shepherds to be the best messengers for the coming of the Lord? The prophets had declared Jesus would be born in Bethlehem. The shepherds were out in the hills surrounding Bethlehem. The heavenly star surely was their guiding light to keep their flock intact and safe. Where they already a part of the foreshadowing simply because of their line of work? The Tower of the Flock, also known as Migdal Eder, was located between Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Some suggest the three shepherds could have been guarding a special flock of lambs that were being raised purposely for sacrifice.
What could they have imagined when the angel told them to go and find the babe wrapped in swaddling cloth inside a manager. Wrapped in a fabric similar to what baby sheep were swaddled in when they were born to be sacrificed. But they obeyed the Angel. They immediately started spreading the word about what they’d seen, thus creating the beginning of the Gospel of Christ.
This was a small tight-knit community so word would have begun to spread as soon as Jesus was born. The shepherds had been told to look for the babe in a manger. While this could be symbolic, some believe the shepherds stayed in the hills and didn’t actually find the manger until a few hours or maybe days later and that the manger could have been a cave-like enclosure near the inn where no rooms were available.
It’s noted that the Shepherds are always on the right in renderings of the Nativity scene. The Magi are on the left. Some experts say the three on each side represent the three continents—Asia, Africa, and Europe. But on this night, they were there to pay their respects because the angel had foretold this exciting event. No one jostled for position.
Isaiah 40:11 tells us “He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart.”
This is the true sign of a shepherd, the true nature of Jesus Christ. Three common men who lived and worked on the land and with the animals became the beacon of hope for the Savior who was born on that starry night. They stood watch over him along with Mary and Joseph and the three wise men. The Angel of the Lord shined down on them. There were no outcasts in this scene. The three who had tended their flock would forever remain a part of the story of the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have to wonder what became of those three. Were they there thirty-three years later, watching in the crowd? Did they feel that tug to rush to the cross and hold the lamb close to their hearts? I’d like to think they did, indeed.
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Discuss: Jesus came for all of us. Every single one of us. That is a beautiful thing. What are some thoughts you have about the shepherds? Are they who you would expect Jesus to come to first?
Pray: Dear Jesus, thank you for embracing all of us. Thank you for showing yourself to every man. Thank you for wrapping us all up in your embrace. We love you. Amen.