The Miracle of the Shepherds

The book of Luke tells of Jesus’ birth in great detail. After Mary gives birth to Jesus and lays him in the manger, the story moves onto the shepherds in the field, saying:

That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David!” – Luke 2:8-11, NLT.

To anyone reading this without much historical knowledge this just seems like a miraculous birth announcement, which is cool enough on its own, but there’s actually a lot more to this story.

Jesus was born to Jewish parents. There were originally 12 tribes that made up what we call Jewish people today, and from the tribe of Judah falls Mary. This is expected because a previous King named David, an ancestor to Mary, was promised that he would have a descendent who would be a king who’s reigning would last forever. David had united the 12 tribes and was a terrific King, but as the years went by after his life, the tribes were separated and exiled to other places. The Jewish people no longer had a king and couldn’t understand how that promise would be fulfilled until Jesus comes in David’s lineage, and in the city of David.

The non-Jewish people (or Gentiles as they were called) were outsiders to the Jewish people, and many worshiped idols and didn’t have a personal relationship with God. It was the Jews who loved God deeply and had waited patiently for a Messiah to come to save them from their oppression under the Roman Empire and to guide them. They waited all while knowing the scriptures and the promised signs watching for Jesus to arrive in the manner they expected.

The Jewish people were expecting a King, born in a palace, with a vast array of Heaven’s armies to defeat their oppressors. The Gentiles weren’t expecting anyone at all.

The first announcement of the Messiah’s birth goes to the shepherds. Random men in a field, probably filthy, sleeping in the company of sheep, and essentially kind of low on the totem pole as far as societal ranks go. Not even Jewish. Men that had no real relationship with God prior.

The King was presented to the people who didn’t even realize that they had a need for him.  Jesus comes in a filthy stable (likely a dark and dirty cave contrary to the popular Christmas card photo) and is revealed first to the Gentiles.

Strange eh? One of the things I love about the Christmas story is how many layers are unexpected. The King of the world born into filth and announced to filth. This is the very opposite of the image many people have of “religious Jesus” who is radiant with beams of light reflecting off himself, and a finger quick to do some pointing.

Jesus was a gift for all those who were oppressed, these lowly field hands included. Just like his birth and birth announcement, Jesus spent his entire life reaching out to the underdog, including women who were seen as mere property in his time.

Jesus’ birth story reminds us of one of the biggest lessons in his life: love on another. This is not contingent upon a person’s status or even what society thinks they’re worth. It’s not even contingent upon their behaviour, but simply their humanity.

The interesting part is the response of the Shepherds who are initially frightening by the Angel’s announcement, until they realized the true joy of what happened. Immediately, they head to Bethlehem in the hopes of meeting this new Messiah.  They end up sharing the story with others, leaving people astonished and giving praise to God.

The miracle of the shepherds is that they shouldn’t have known at all that Jesus was born. But, God loves all people so much that he would present His Son first to the underdog who’s lives become transformed as a result.

No matter who you are, no matter what you have done, no matter how imperfect or worthless you see yourself, know that the King of the world longs to show himself to you just like he revealed himself to the Shepherds. Just as we see in the Shepherds, God loves you exactly as you are. 

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