Against All Odds – The Shepherds
This year has been challenging but one of things that has been an encouragement to me is a shift in public perception of certain jobs. I think of that Banksy image, you may have seen it, with the boy playing with a nurse doll whilst his superhero toys are in the bin. We’ve also seen the introduction of the term ‘key workers’ to recognise and honour the importance of these roles in society during a season when our backs have been very firmly against the wall. For example, those working in (I know there’s more) Health services, Education, Emergency Services, Food Retail, Refuge collections etc.
Whilst these roles might not appear to be the most glamorous or attractive professions to work in we have collectively recognised the importance of what they do in our nation and communities and the response has been one of honour and appreciation. There has been a healthy shake up of thinking what is truly valuable.
So, if you were to announce the birth of a king to be, what would you do? I know I would be thinking about identifying the option that best provided maximum coverage and endorsement from those with influence, power and status.
In the Christmas story of Jesus’ birth, we see that magi these non-Jewish kingmakers, from the east arrive in Jerusalem to search for the king and they do meet with the elite of Jerusalem with all those that tick the boxes – power, influence, status etc.
But who in the public does God announce the birth of Jesus to? Is it the Chief Priests, the leaders of the faith? No.
Is it the teachers of the law, those who have committed their lives to the study of the religious texts? No.
The first that the above hear of live news of the messiah’s arrival (by the way, who they’ve been waiting for all their lives!) is from people outside of their faith, these magi. Astonishing!
Instead, we see God personally deliver the announcement of the birth of his son to shepherds.. (pause) yes, shepherds you read that right. No national or community power, influence or status.
Let’s have a read of the story in the gospel of Luke 2:8 – 20.
8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
Perhaps, you like me, can often wonder ‘do I have value’?
So, what do we see in this story? We see that God decides to roll out the red carpet and the premiere VIP treatment to a group of shepherds who are in the fields. Imagine working that evening!
Shepherding has been a humble profession throughout history and shepherds usually find themselves towards the bottom rung of society perhaps similarly viewed in line with tax collectors. (I mean who enjoys a letter from HMRC?) Shepherds would most likely be uneducated and often disadvantaged, poor and needy.
Yet, God rolls out the full works to this nightshift. The bible says that an angel appeared to both Mary and Joseph AND we see that happen again here too. But what Luke, the author of the gospel, also details is incredible. Imagine, having that sense of always feeling unwelcome wherever you go in town and YOU receive a visit from an angel (turns around expecting angel to be visiting someone else) that in itself is unbelievable and a moment that I would hold onto for the rest of my life.
But it doesn’t stop there, not only did you see an angel but then the GLORY of the Lord also shone around you?! The only way I can think of (poorly) imagining this for myself is on the brightest summers day after stepping out from the house to see the sun shining so brightly it reflects off every surface, forcing you to shield your eyes from the intensity. It’s a poor reflection, I know, of the radiance that would have shone and transformed the night into a blinding light. Also, this doesn’t even consider the emotional feeling that would have been experienced – terror seemed to be the reaction which isn’t too surprising.
I remember having an opportunity whilst in Africa to ride an Elephant and feeling a combination of the adrenaline thrill whilst feeling equally uneasy as I reflected on the sheer size and power of this beautiful animal compared to little ol’ me – the reality is I would go where this elephant led.
The red carpet treatment continues, so not only does an angel messenger appear to the shepherds (I’m all in at this stage) they get to see the radiant glory of God surrounding them (not many get to experience this) but there’s one more special moment on the programme for the evening, the grand finale A GREAT COMPANY OF THE HEAVENLY HOST appeared praising God. Glory surrounding you and now the skies transformed into a magnitude of heavenly beings praising in unison everywhere you look. What can you say but WOW?! Stunned and amazed, I can’t imagine any other response that I would take that would differ from the first two words the shepherds say after all they’ve heard, seen and experienced…their response … “Let’s go”
These shepherds were bottom of the social order and yet God involves them in the story. He reveals to them the messiah is born in the town nearby. The messiah everyone has been waiting on has now arrived and God doesn’t follow the obvious path and reveal to the religious leaders or the powerful elite with influence. He instead chose to introduce the messiah to ordinary people first, to the shepherds, people like you and me.
Jesus then continues this model he could have picked anyone to be part of his followers and he picks a mixed group. He picked Matthew a tax collector, who not many would choose to put on their team, but Jesus did. Jesus then spends large parts of his life with the poor, the sick, the disadvantaged and the marginalised. As well we see he spent time with the religious leaders and influential people. He wasn’t exclusive one way or the other rather Jesus genuinely cared for all irrespective of whether they were perceived to be at the top of the social ladder or the bottom.
However, you may feel about yourself or where you believe society determines your value. It’s important to know that God doesn’t determine your value based on social factors instead he sees YOU for who you are, and you have VALUE to him, and you are SPECIAL to him and he LOVES you. Jesus, the son of God, came into this world and we call him Immanuel which means God with us because through Jesus we can experience the full love of God.
This Christmas time let me encourage you to spend time with God because he cares so much for you and time in his presence is ALWAYS time well spent.
If you don’t believe in God, please let me encourage you in a quiet moment to ask Jesus to reveal himself to you. A simple prayer like “Jesus, please would you reveal yourself to me?” is all you need to say in your heart, for we believe he is faithful to reveal himself to those who search for him.
Finally, my prayer for us this Christmas time is that we can receive the peace of God that he gives over those his favour rests.
Tim Cowles December 2020