What generally comes to mind when you think of Christmas? Frenzied shopping trips, wrapping and unwrapping presents, decorating a Christmas tree, putting up lights, holiday parties, scenic landscapes of snow, aromas of holiday meals and treats, family gatherings, singing Christmas songs and hymns, etc. Those of us who are Christians understand and believe that the Christmas season is a time to remember how our great God sent His Son, Jesus, to ultimately save us from His eternal wrath because of our sins. The incarnation of Jesus Christ is arguably one of the greatest events of human history, but definitely the greatest birth to ever have happened. While only Matthew and Luke records the birth narrative of Jesus, Luke records an account that Matthew doesn’t that has great significance and offers great encouragement. Luke’s inclusion of the angelic announcement to shepherds (Luke 2:8-21) serves to remind us of God’s grace to the seemingly insignificant.
The “Insignificant” Shepherds
Shepherding is very common in the Middle East and parts of Asia. During the time of the biblical patriarchs and after, shepherding was the way of life and commerce for most families. Moses was a shepherd (Exodus 3:1-2), Abraham was a rich shepherd (Genesis 13), Jacob was a shepherd (Genesis 30:25-43), and David was a shepherd (1 Samuel 16:1-13). Shepherding was a noble calling as it pictured leadership and care. Think of how David described God as his shepherd in Psalm 23 and in many other Psalms. However, by the first century when the Roman Empire subjected Israel to its rule, shepherding was seen as a very low class calling in Israel and the surrounding areas. To be a shepherd was to be socially inferior and shepherds were often marginalized. Considering that, it ought to make us wonder why the LORD would send an angel to announce the birth of the Savior to shepherds. Why them? Why not a prominent business man or woman? Why not an influential political figure of the day? There is a reason and Luke’s gospel emphasizes it throughout. Let’s look more closely at what Luke records.
10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 12 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
After the shepherds were approached by the angel, fear immediately struck them and they were instructed by the angel to not fear. If we casually read these verses, we’ll miss an important point the Holy Spirit is making through Luke’s account. However, if we thoughtfully read keeping the audience, and the social and historic contexts in mind, we’ll notice the gravity of these verses. The angel of the LORD says in verse 10, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you….” and in verse 11, “For unto you…..” . Who is this message of good news for? Who is the Savior born to? This gospel (good news) is “for all the people”, but notice the personal emphasis of the angel’s words… “I bring you” and “Unto you…”. This good news was for them! This angelic announcement wasn’t an announcement given to Israel at large, but to the shepherds. The fact that God entrusted this news to the shepherds and saying that the Savior was born for them verifies the indiscriminate grace of God toward people.
What the Holy Spirit wants us to understand is that God lavishes His redemptive grace on whomever He will. He is no respecter of persons. This reality runs throughout Scripture. God chooses whom He chooses to lavish His saving grace. Those whom the world would discount or pass over, God chooses for His plans so that He gets the glory (1 Cor. 1:26-31)! Jesus was born that the lowly and seemingly insignificant might be saved.
I believe the shepherds were saved shortly after their angelic encounter. Verse 20 tells us that after the shepherds went to Bethlehem and saw Jesus, they “returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.” Their praise was a direct result of the good news brought to them by the angel. These shepherds laid their eyes on their Good Shepherd (Jhn. 10:1-18), the Shepherd of their souls, their Savior!
So how should we think about Christmas? We should be reminded that Jesus saves those whom the world would otherwise look over. Jesus saves the ‘insignificant’. We should be overjoyed that our socio-economic standings, education levels, gender, or ethnicities are not barriers to God’s grace. For we all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and for that God has sent His Son, Jesus, to be our everlasting hope.