“That night some shepherds were in the fields outside the village, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them.” Luke 2:8-9
In first century Israel shepherds were the lowest of the low. They were dirty. Unclean. Smelly. Peasants. There was great irony in them being looked at as so filthy, for they raised the lambs that were offered as pure sin sacrafices. But ordinary people tried to avoid associating with shepherds. It wasn’t a job with any great potential. Young Jewish boys didn’t dream of being shepherds when they grew up. They were the least of the least in society. They stayed in the fields outside the village. They weren’t welcome inside. They weren’t welcome in the temple, for they were deemed unclean. Society’s rules and standards barred them from the presence of God.
But when heaven touched earth everything got turned upside down. As Mary and Joseph reached the end of their journey to Bethlehem things were about to change. An event so powerful it would quite literally split history into two was about to occur. A plan that had been in place from before the start was coming into place. Unknowingly the emperor Augustus had enabled the final pieces to come together, and centuries of waiting were almost over. The serpent crusher was coming.
Israel had had a temporary system of animal sacrafice. From the very early days mankind had offered animals to God as an offering to Him. Moses had taught them to offer a spotless lamb as atonement for their sin. But they knew this was a temporary system. They knew a better sacrafice was coming. They knew the offering of lambs was just foreshadowing a better sacrafice. A sacrafice that would be all-complete and sufficient to atone for the sin debt once and for all. A sacrafice that would break the curse, defeat the power of sin and crush the serpent’s head in defeat.
The people had been expectantly awaiting this promised Messiah, the one who would atone for their sin completely. The one who would abolish the need for animal sacrafices. And at just the right moment, as had been perfectly planned from before the beginning of time, Jesus the sinless spotless righteous Lamb came. Jesus, who would be sacraficed for all our sin. Jesus, the Word become flesh and born among us.
And the first to hear of this most wonderous event that had occured that night in Bethlehem? Shepherds. The outcasts. the ones who had been excluded from the presence of God were the first to hear that now He was with us, living among us. Shepherds, the least of the least, were the first to hear that God had humbled himself to become the lowest of the low, a servant to all. Shepherds, the unclean, smelly, dirty peasants were the first to hear that Jesus had come for everyone. Not just the religious elite. Not just the pure. Not just the clean. Not just those who went to church every week. Not just those with no past and no skeletons lurking in the cupboard. This was good news for everyone. The sound of heaven touching earth was the sound of an angelic chorus to the least in society. The message of Christmas is that Jesus is good news to all. Jesus had come for all mankind. None were worthy, but out of love He came to reach out to us all. No matter how unworthy you feel, no matter how far from God you feel, the message of Christmas is Jesus came for all and God is with us no matter how much of an outcast we feel.