Shepherds must be dear in God’s heart. They certainly have a special place in his book. Jesus described himself as the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. Secure in the crook of his arm, he declares that no man can snatch them away. Many of us are used to the beautiful paintings of Jesus, strong and tender, watching the flocks or carrying a lost lamb back to the fold.
The realities of being a shepherd were far from lovely. They lived apart from the cities, those who did not fit in. No doubt about it, they smelled like the sheep they cared for. Uneducated, not considered the portals of God’s news by anyone around them, yet they were the ones God chose to receive the great news. Of all people—shepherds were the first to hear the announcement of the birth of Jesus. Another in a series of paradoxes, the good news of great joy came to those at the bottom of the social structure of their time.
“8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 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.”
Luke 2:8-15 New International Version (NIV)
Born to uneducated teenage parents in an out of the way town they did not live in, a birth of questionable circumstances, in a stable, a manger for a bed. Then came this announcement to social misfits in the middle of nowhere. Today, the births of princes are photographed, bathed in beautiful light, everyone scrubbed clean and airbrushed, so easy to love. But when God came close to us, he did so in a particularly unattractive place and in the most unexpected way.
Mary hinted at God’s surprising ways in her response to the angel who told her she would give birth to the Son of God: “He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away hungry”( Luke 1:53).
Not far away, priests lay in their warm soft beds, satisfied with their own piety and proud of their knowledge and positions. They were full of themselves. Too full, perhaps, to hear the word of the Lord. The shepherds, hungry and cold in the night, eyes searching the heavens as they had so many times before, looking and listening for God knows what, were filled that night. We know they received the word because of their response—“Let’s go see!”
When the baby became a man, he taught the principles of an inverted kingdom–blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled. There are many ways of being full of ourselves these days. Educated, affluent, comfortable in our soft beds, distracted by a million shiny objects, we risk missing what God wants to say to us. Our lives are not about these comforts or accomplishments but, are meant to be about a relationship with the Prince of Peace. Are you hungry for him? He longs to fill you.