and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
Can you imagine this scene? I've seen it depicted in movies and paintings. I'm sure most of us have. But I don't know if my imagination, which is pretty good, if I do say so myself, can conjure up any kind of real idea of what this was like. Can you imagine, being out in the fields, counting sheep, maybe huddling by a small fire to keep warm, maybe remarking to the other shepherds about the weather, or joking about how stupid sheep are, or arguing about whose turn it is to make something to eat... and an angel appears, bringing a message. Now that in itself would be enough to give a poor old shepherd a heart attack, but then imagine a multitude... a MULTITUDE... of the heavenly host! I can't envision it. I don't think I can really put myself into their position and imagine how awe-inspiring and incredibly shocking that would be.
Shepherds were the lowest rung of society's ladder. Other than maybe lepers. They were dirty and smelly. They lived in fields with sheep. The chances that they were educated or even particularly civilized, by today's standards, are small. From Mark Driscoll's sermon Christ the Lord:
The shepherds were weird. They lived by themselves, outside of town, sleeping in the open, with animals all the time. That’s not the job you shoot for, that’s the job you end up with. Shepherd.
Additionally, they couldn’t make it to temple for sacrifices and feasts because they couldn’t abandon their flock, so they weren’t able to maintain religious devotion as the rest of God’s people did. Furthermore, some would say that many of them were crooks and thieves. That they were a suspicious bunch. They couldn’t even testify in court. These are the lowest of the low.
And it’s curious how God comes in a humble way to the humble Mary, and announces it to the humble shepherds. It’s amazing. I mean, God takes the lowly, those people and things that are naught, and he works with them for his glory by his grace. Moses was a shepherd. David was a shepherd boy when he slew the giant Goliath. Amos the prophet says, “Why do you want me to preach, I’m just a shepherd?” Jesus comes as the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. In John 10 and in 1 Peter 5, he is the Chief Shepherd, the Senior Pastor of the church.
And so God redeems even this really unpopular, insignificant profession and shows that he is humble and willing to look after us sheep, which are not the most brilliant of animals. Altogether defenseless. No one has ever been scared of a sheep. And the Bible says that we’re like that: defenseless, silly, wandering, not real sharp. Some of you would say, “Oh, I am very smart and proficient.” For a sheep, you are. But that’s not a big deal.
And just like a shepherd tends to his sheep, the shepherd is devoted to his sheep, and the shepherd is willing to lay down his life for his sheep, so Jesus comes as the Good Shepherd.
How amazingly happy I am that God's plan of salvation was not only for the wealthy, the powerful, the sophisticated, the civilized, the "goody-two-shoes"... it is for ALL THE PEOPLE. From the shepherd to the king, from the poorest child to the most powerful president, it is for everyone.
Tomorrow's scripture focus: Luke 2:15-21.