Chapter 2 of the Gospel of Luke tells us about shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem and how angels appeared and proclaimed, "Today in the city of David a Savior was born to you who is the Messiah, the Master." On the night Jesus was born into our world God chose to appear first to a group of shepherds. He didn't choose the king of the land; he didn't choose the powerful or elite of society. He chose some shepherds. Nothing wrong with shepherds. Shepherding has a long and distinguished history. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and King David were all shepherds. However, in first century Israel, the title and position of shepherd was a little less than honored. A rabbinic teaching from Jeremias says that most of the time shepherds were dishonest and thieving. A midrash, a Jewish teaching on Psalm 23 states, "There is no more disreputable occupation than that of a shepherd." In Israel in their day, a shepherd's testimony was not allowed in court. These guys most likely were not the owners of the sheep. Rather they were hired to do the hard work of leading sheep all over the countryside to find food and water. They spent weeks unsupervised and were often accused of taking from the flock or taking some other land owner's food and water for their sheep. Even Jesus distinguishes between the good shepherd and the hireling in John 10:11-13. Certainly not all shepherds deserved dishonor. The shepherds outside of Bethlehem may very well have been devout, God-honoring men who realized the animals in their care would possibly be used as a holy sacrifice at the temple just a few miles to the north in Jerusalem. At the same time, it seems that God often chooses to use unexpected, even undesirable people when He delivers His message. Abraham, Moses, Jacob, King David, the Apostle Paul and many others had some serious issues at some point in their lives, yet God chose each one to unveil His work in our world and in our lives.
Back to shepherds: These lowly, disreputable, distrusted hired hands, who were considered outcasts and Wby and large shunned by the mainstream, believed the message they heard from God that night. They went to Bethlehem and found Mary, Joseph and the baby just like the angel said. When they left they couldn't help but tell everyone they met and they worshiped.
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. (Luke 2:17-20, NIV)
I hope you have met the Messiah and I hope you will continue to worship at Christmas and all year long.