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 of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ 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,
and on earth peace to men on
whom his favor rests.”
When the angel 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.
As we prepare to wrap up this Advent season, let us take a look at it through the eyes of the shepherds.
When we read the Christmas story nowadays, it is a natural tendency to think, “How cool it would have been to be one of the shepherds. I mean, they got to be the first to see Jesus and all.” We have a glamourized view of the shepherds, which comes no doubt from seeing them all dressed up with cool robes and staffs in so many Christmas pageants.
But this is not correct. You would NOT have wanted to be a shepherd.
Shepherds in first-century Israel had a pretty shitty existence. They spent lots of time out in the fields tending to their sheep. They were frequently gone for weeks at a stretch. They were in almost constant contact with animal dung and other such uncleanness, and they did not have the means to wash themselves in the manner prescribed by Jewish law and custom. Thus they were cut off from access to the Temple and other facets of Jewish religious life. They were rough-looking characters, kind of a first century version of Hell’s Angels. One can easily imagine them drinking and cussing as they sit around the campfire to keep warm on those cold desert nights.
The Jewish people looked down on shepherds with a vengeance. If you were living in first-century Israel, you would NOT have wanted to be a shepherd.
And yet it was to these, the lowest of the low in first century Israel, that Jesus appeared first.
And when the shepherds had seen, they did not become instant religious celebrities. No speaking circuit or celebrity book deals for these guys. Instead, they went right back to where they were, right back to being shepherds in the midst of their fields, except with the awareness that they had seen something very special that would change their lives and would change the entire world.