As any dad can attest, some of the greatest moments of my life were at the birth of my children. On four separate occasions I stood in the delivery room and “assisted” (the midwife’s term for keeping the dad busy so he doesn’t get in the way) with the birth of a new child.
Of course, not every aspect of the ordeal was enjoyable. Birth is a very difficult process. However, when it was over we finally got to reach for the phone to make “the call.” My parents and my in-laws were first on the list. Then we considered calling maybe a sibling or two and someone in the church.
We called these folks for two reasons. First, we knew they would be excited. They had to know the time of birth, the length and weight of the baby, the color of hair and eyes…everything. Second, we knew they would get the word out. Everyone needed to know about the birth, but we were too tired to make all the calls ourselves.
After our last son was born, I left the hospital in search of some “real food” to take back to my wife. I distinctly remember walking down the aisle of a grocery store, fighting the urge to climb up on the meat freezer and shout, “I have a new baby boy!” Unfortunately, few of the shoppers would have cared. They had their own children to think about. They were studying their shopping lists or browsing the latest merchandise. The fact that I was once again a daddy meant nothing to them.
It would seem like a waste of time to announce the birth of my baby to folks who had no vested interest. They were not relatives or even friends. They were just going about their business in life. They wouldn’t care.
But that is what God did when His Son was born.
There are so many things about Jesus’ birth that just do not make sense. First of all, although He was God in the flesh, He was born to a poor girl. Not only was she poor, but she was unmarried, so the whole thing was scandalous. He was born in a stable, wrapped in strips of cloth (not a onesie to be found) and put in a feeding trough. Then His birth was announced to a group of shepherds.
Shepherds? Why shepherds?
The inclusion of the shepherds in the birth account is very interesting to me. I do not know of any prophecy that required it. I do not know of any great impact that it made. After all, the shepherds did not go out and start churches. They just want back to the fields and we don’t hear from them any more.
So, why the shepherds?
On one level, it does not make sense. On the other hand, it makes perfect sense.
We may not question the inclusion of the shepherds because they are deeply engrained in our overall tradition of Christmas. Many of us stood in the front of the church as youngsters clad in a bathroom, clutching a staff that some volunteer had carved out of a piece of scrap plywood. We sing “While Shepherds Watched their Flocks by Night” and “The First Noel.” Every nativity scene and reenactment has shepherds. Christmas would not be complete without them.
But why shepherds?
We are not told specifically in the Bible why the shepherds received the birth announcement, so, if I may, I am going to speculate just a bit.
First, notice that the shepherds were common people. Just everyday folks. Like those shoppers who did not care about the birth of my son. They were just people going about their everyday business.
But maybe that’s the point. The message of Jesus is for those everyday common people.
One day Jesus walked into the synagogue and volunteered to read from the Scriptures. Choosing the passage we know as Isaiah 61:1, He read it, closed the book, and applied it to Himself.
Here is what He said:
The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He has anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord. (Luke 4:18-19 NKJV)
Jesus did not just come to hobnob with the “upper crust” of society. He came for the poor, the brokenhearted, and the oppressed. Maybe that is why the shepherds, rather than royalty, received the announcement.
Here is another reason that God may have included the shepherds in the activities of that glorious night: He knew that they would listen. And they did not just listen; they responded.
As soon as the shepherds heard the message of the birth of Jesus, they “came with haste” (Luke 2:16). I’m not sure what they did with their sheep, but apparently when a group of insignificant shepherds receives a message from Heaven, nothing else matters.
People who consider themselves to be “important” may be too busy for Jesus. In fact, Bethlehem was a lively town on that night, because all the descendants of David had arrived for the census. Everyone was bustling around trying to find a place to stay, reuniting with family…maybe even trying to scrounge up some money to pay their taxes. Most likely, in the corner cafes one could find groups people fuming over a cup of coffee (or whatever they were drinking) about having to come all this way because the oppressive Roman Empire had required it.
However, the shepherds were out in the field where the atmosphere would have been much quieter. They were able to hear, and when they did hear, they came looking.
Maybe another reason that the message was given to the shepherds is because Jesus Himself was a shepherd.
I know, I know. You might say, “But He was a carpenter!” Sure, he apparently learned the trade of carpentry from Joseph, but His real Father had given Him the job of caring for His people. That He took this job seriously is obvious in His own self-disclosure statement: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
I do not believe it is purely coincidental that the message of Jesus’ birth came to the shepherds. They were common people who were not so wrapped up in themselves that they could not or would not hear the message. They also knew firsthand what it meant to be a shepherd.
As you come into this Christmas season, who are you more like? The travelers and merchants who descended on Bethlehem and in their hurry, never knew that the Messiah had been born in their midst? Or will you be like the common, everyday shepherds who heard the message and dropped everything to see the child?
We often find ourselves too busy to enjoy the Christmas season. There is nothing wrong with being busy—even the shepherds were taking care of their sheep. However, they were willing to stop, listen, and respond.
Have you quieted yourself enough to hear Him? Have you received Him? Are you listening to His commands and following Him?