Have you ever pondered the irony and foreshadowing God wrote into his story when he chose the shepherds to be the first to hear the good news of great joy?
“And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear.
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.
For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”
To fully grasp the nuances of this passage, we 21st-century readers must don first-century glasses.
Despite the fact that some of Israel’s greatest leaders were shepherds (Jacob, Moses, David), both the Mishnah and the Talmud (the collections of Rabbinic law) teach us this: shepherding was a despised profession.
In the first century, you couldn’t get much lower than a shepherd. A Jewish commentary on Psalm 23:2 notes, “There is no more disreputable occupation than that of a shepherd.” (Source)
Those deemed worthless by society were the ones shown the glory of the Lord as the announcement was made and a praise and worship service broke out in the sky, while they were keeping watch over their flock out in the field.
The hills of Bethlehem had a long association with the grazing of sheep. Located just six miles outside of Jerusalem — home to the Temple — it was known for its rich agricultural lands on which flocks were allowed to graze after crops had been harvested. In his book, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Alfred Edersheim notes the flocks pastured outside of Bethlehem were destined for Temple sacrifices. (Source)
From this first century perspective, we now travel further back in time to get an even bigger view of what God was doing with his story, er history.
A millennium and a half before this night, God had rescued his people from Egyptian slavery. After nine plagues that only served to harden Pharaoh’s heart, the final deliverance from Egypt instituted the Passover. Each Israelite family followed God’s instructions to slaughter an unblemished male lamb and paint its blood on the wooden doorpost.
When the death angel passed through the land that night, the firstborn of every Egyptian family died. The Hebrew firstborn — safely behind the blood of the Passover lamb — lived.
The baby lying in the manger on Christmas night was destined to become the final Passover lamb. Three decades later, as Jesus began his ministry, John would look at him and declare, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”
That baby would grow up to live an unblemished life and call himself the good shepherd, noting that a good one lays down his life for his sheep.
He would be despised and rejected, hanging out with those whom society considered unworthy. And one day, he would carry a wooden cross — painted with his blood — to Calvary at Passover time.
The baby was born for one purpose:
to die for the sins of the world so that all the lowly of this earth would be invited into eternal life.
And whom did God send to welcome him into the world?
Those who made their living tending to the lambs destined for slaughter.
Did they know the significance of their visit?
Scripture doesn’t say.
But on this side of history, we do.
Do you have a plan for Advent?
Watch this short trailer all the way to the end.
Let the final question sit with you a minute when it’s over.
Making Life & Words Count!