The Shepherd's View
In the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, we read unique stories about different people’s reaction to the announcement of the coming of Emmanuel. Over the next several weeks, we will examine and reflect on each of their experiences as recorded in Scripture, and how they prepared for the coming of Jesus.
Can you imagine a more inauspicious beginning than the one that Jesus receives here? And yet, there is a layer of extravagance and extraordinariness to this story as well. The birth of Jesus is announced to a group of shepherds in Luke 2:8-20, and it is both awe-inspiring and perhaps a little confusing.
Here’s what happens: a group of shepherds who are living in the fields with their sheep (read unimportant and smelly) receive a message from an angel of the Lord that the true King of the world has just been born! An entire host appears praising God and announcing that the peace of God is coming. This is a truly miraculous moment! But…the King of the world is lying in a feeding trough in a small little town called Bethlehem with his mom and dad.
It is a truly head-scratching moment, at least it is for me. Why would this be the way that the arrival of Jesus is told? And in fact, all the way through the Gospels, this same theme gets drawn out over and over again. Jesus shows up to a group of unimportant (and maybe even smelly too) group of people to talk about the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ disciples were not the best nor brightest. The people Jesus chose to heal often were the very people that others avoided at all costs. The people who he chose to spend his time with were often less than savory figures (such as tax collectors and women of ill repute). After the resurrection, Jesus appears to a group of women and charges them with carrying the news of his resurrection to his chosen followers. Over and over again, Jesus shows up to people we wouldn’t expect, and the story just continues on from there.
Jesus’ birth, the birth of the King of the world, the Savior of God’s people, the Lord, comes and the first people on the scene are a group of shepherds who have come in from this miraculous vision, wanting what they have seen and heard to be true. And they come upon Jesus–just a baby, lying in an animal’s food container.
And they get it.
They return back home praising and glorifying God because the Messiah has come. Advent is upon them. The joy of the world is here.
When I read this story and reflect on the meaning of it all, I am overwhelmed by the prominence that God gives to regular people. No one in this story is the kind of person that we would have thought to ask for their autograph or would have wanted to take a picture with them. And yet, that is exactly the people that God chooses over and over again. He chooses Mary, an unwed teen girl, to be the mother of Jesus. He chose Jeremiah, who was just a child, to carry his message to the people of Israel. He chose David, the youngest of his brothers whom his father didn’t even consider worthy of introducing to Samuel. He chose Ruth. He chose Moses. He chose Abraham.
And when they were chosen, in their best moments, they said what the shepherds said that night: “let’s go right now…” Of course, many of the people whom God chose, and indeed those whom God still chooses today need more prompting at times and must overcome sinfulness by the mercy of God too. But obedience is so often the response of God’s choosing. And the result, too, is praise and glory of God.
As we continue to prepare for the coming of Jesus, it is my prayer that we will remember that God chooses the smelly and unimportant. God’s desire is that we, often those who may feel unimportant or even may have some real baggage and filth on us, follow with obedience. That we go where God is calling us to go. And I pray, too, that we might praise and glorify our God as a result.