As many of you may know, I grew up in Iowa which is a lot like Wisconsin except flatter. Maybe it is because I grew up in Iowa that I generally think of shepherds as good. They are like farmers, right? Farmers, for the most part, are good people and by their labor the world is fed - that is Godly work!
Keeping this in mind, it came as a shock to me when I heard that shepherds were not considered good people in Jesus’ day. Towns and villages would put out signs that read “NO SHEPHERDS ALLOWED!.”
Even the religion was set against shepherds. Everyone had to be clean to enter the temple and be part of worship. There were rituals and things to be done to make someone clean. Only three types of people were excluded on the basis of their profession and labeled as uncleanable and sinners by profession. These were tax collectors, prostitutes and shepherds.
One commentary written around Jesus’ time spoke about a passage of scripture. The writer said that it lacked meaning and beauty and must not actually belong to scripture. The passage the writer was referring to was the 23rd Psalm - The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want … Such was the prejudice against shepherds at Jesus’ time that one of the most meaningful parts of the Bible - the 23rd Psalm was suspect because it said God was a shepherd.
Shepherds were considered low lives, thieves, dirty and untrustworthy.
It is curious, then, that God went to the shepherds first and told them through the angels that Jesus was born. Christmas came first to the shepherds, the outcasts who were the perpetually sinful.
When the angels share the goodnews - “to you this day in the city of David is born a savior…” they might have said “to the likes of you … a savior is born”
It is for the likes of you and me that God gives us Jesus. God stops at nothing to close the distance separating you from God. Christmas is God reaching out to hold you and the whole world in God’s love forever.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!’
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger.When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.