And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
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.” So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
I love the shepherds section of the nativity tableau, it ticks all the boxes of wonder and awe with the ordinary people being central to the message and meaning.
Shepherds had one of the hardest lives of all people in biblical times; they were some of the lowest in society and discarded as those who lived with the animals. They lived with the herds for weeks and months at a time, protecting them from wild animals and ensuring that they survived the elements; which meant living themselves in the elements far from communities and families. They were uneducated and of very little worth; yet God chose them to be the first people told of Jesus' birth.
I have read many accounts and interpretations of the shepherds and the reason for them being chosen over the years; the majority of which conclude that the choice of shepherds is confirmation of the proof of the birth of a messiah; after all any fabrication would have chosen a holy man of importance. I however prefer to think of the shepherds being the first to be told not as a way of providing historical proof, but as a demonstration of how Jesus Christ was born for all people of the world, even the lowest in society. God chose to send the angels to tell the shepherds as a sign that Jesus was for all people, of all time, no matter how they are seen by their communities. God showed that human value is of nothing to Him, He values us all as we are.
I love the fact that "Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart". She held the visit from the shepherds as a teasured occurrence; it spoke deeply to her and she held it in her heart. I wonder what that means; perhaps she saw that God was choosing the lowly and the excluded and this showed how deep her son's task would be. Perhaps she realised how wide God's net was being cast and therefore how broad Jesus' ministry would be. Perhaps she basked in the pure joy of a celebration of Jesus' birth despite it being lowly and quiet; God was showing how great it was to Him. Whatever it was, she treasured it and thought on it and no doubt this was part of the birth story she told to Jesus in the years of his childhood.
Prayer of the day
Lord of all, we thank you for reminding us that Jesus came for all. We are more than good enough to receive your grace, love and forgiveness and for this we are in awe. Remind us to treat those who are excluded from society with the same depth of love and ministry that you do.