8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.
10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.
15And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us. 16And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.
20And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them. ~ Luke 2:8-11, 15-18, 20
Jesus birth was announced by angels which is quite suitable for the Son of God, the Messiah, the Saviour of the world. However, it seems strange that this momentous proclamation was not made before an audience of Kings, or Leaders, or Priests, or Nobles, but to an audience of lowly shepherds. Shepherds!!!!
The significance of this point often escapes modern readers because we are not aware of the lowly social status of shepherds in Jesus’ day:
“The Mishnah, Judaism’s written record of the oral law… describes [shepherds] as “incompetent”… says no one should ever feel obligated to rescue a shepherd who has fallen into a pit… Jeremias documents the fact that shepherds were deprived of all civil rights. They could not fulfill judicial offices or be admitted in court as witnesses.” ~ Eternal Perspective Ministries
“Shepherds of Jesus time were considered, by the general populace, generally untrustworthy… Even worse, their work made them ceremonially unclean… because they had daily contact with carcasses of animals and came into contact… with all sorts of unclean animals… So, surprisingly, when the angelic announcement arrives, it comes first to the social outcasts of Jesus’ day.” ~ Holy Ordinary
Accordingly, there are a few lessons we can learn from God’s choice of the shepherds.
First, by announcing Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, God established that there was no one too lowly to receive God’s salvation. God reached out to the absolute rejects of society first in order to demonstrate that no one would be excluded. Therefore, your/my status in society doesn’t matter: God loves us all and wants to save each and every one of us.
Second, it harmonizes with Jesus’ ministry: The Son of God emptied himself of Glory to come to earth as a human babe born in the lowliest of circumstances: in a manger for cattle. And so the God of Heaven announced the birth of His Son to cattle-minders: shepherds.
Third, it is arguable that Jesus’ principal ministry would be as a shepherd: The Good Shepherd (John 10:1-30) who came in search of the lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7). Hence the angels told the message first to those who would identify most closely with His purpose: the shepherds.
Especially useful, however, is the application to our lives. God sent His message to the humblest. The shepherds were humbled by their low social standing; they had no place (no status) and very little value to their society. Similarly, God’s message only comes to those humble enough to hear it. When we become unconcerned about our social standing and self-importance is when we can hear God most clearly. And sometimes (most times?) God has to humble us so that we can hear Him.
Moses started out thinking he knew how to rescue his people from Egyptian oppression, but he failed at the very start and had to run for his life (Exodus 2:11-25). God then humbled Moses for 40-years in his sojourn in the outback of Midian. Only then was Moses in a position to hear from God (Exodus 3-4).
Similarly, God allowed satan to strip away all Job held dear and the once wealthy and successful man among men was left to scratch his sores in a garbage dump (Job 1-2). Only then was Job in a position to hear from God (Job 40-42).
Perhaps God has humbled you lately. Perhaps you have lost your job, or lost your house, or lost your health, or lost your savings or some combination of the above. While this can be quite painful, difficult and bewildering, perhaps God is preparing to speak a message to you that you are just now prepared to hear.
If so, then let us receive that message with joy like the shepherds did. God’s message did not change their social standing, they remained the social rejects they were before. But the message did change their hearts. Before, they were just outcasts on a hillside, but after hearing from God they returned to the hillside as the FIRST missionaries of the Gospel (vs. 17-18) and as worshippers like never before (vs. 20).
The message from God, heard ONLY in their humiliation, transformed them forever.