These shepherds knew something about sacrifice
Angels were everywhere in the Christmas story.
Usually, their appearances made sense.
It was a good idea to let Mary know that she was going to carry the Christ child and to let Zechariah know his wife was pregnant with a baby that would become John the Baptist.
It certainly didn’t seem like a bad idea to reassure Joseph that Mary hadn’t betrayed him, but the child she was carrying was not, in fact, something that should bring him shame. And when the angel told Joseph he better flee with his family Egypt it probably saved Jesus’ life. Then, of course, an angel told him they could return home.
But the other instance when the Bible mentions angels in the Christmas story doesn’t follow the same logic.
In Luke 2, the story is recalled of an angel visiting some shepherds to tell them the messiah had been born.
Verses 8 through 12 say, “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.”
It turned out to be true. The shepherds went into Bethlehem and found the scene just as the angel said they would.
But why would the angel come to a group of shepherds?
Shepherds were the guys who couldn’t get other jobs. They were a rough group.
Even David who went on to be King, started as a shepherd. He showed how tough being a shepherd was when he was a young boy preparing to fight Goliath he was able to say he had killed a lion and killed a bear and he would kill this Philistine in the same way.
That’s a rough kid. That’s a shepherd. That’s the kind of guys the angel chose to tell about the birth of Jesus.
It had been 400 years since the last word of the Old Testament was written. So when the angels came to them, even the most religious shepherds would have been unlikely to expect news of a messiah.
So why did the angels choose the shepherds? I think these shepherds might have been a little different than the men who tended sheep and gave shepherds their bad reputations.
These shepherds knew something about sacrifice.
They tended their flocks just miles from the temple in Jerusalem and many of their lambs would likely be purchased by travelers who end up being offered as atonement for sins.
If you read down a little past the Christmas story, you see when the couple presented Jesus in the temple according to custom, Simeon gave them a blessing that had be difficult to take. In verse 34, he told them, “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
You won’t see that sentiment in many Hallmark’s baby shower cards.
Much like the shepherds who knew the sheep they cared for would be sacrificed for the forgiveness of sins, the same fate on a much different scale faced Mary and Joseph. This child was the greatest blessing ever given. But, His sacrifice would pierce Mary’s soul even though it would bring redemption.
The joyous Christmas story that we still retell during celebrations two thousand years later wasn’t as happy for the parents of the Messiah. We all start dying the minute we are born, but few of us have the appointment with death that Jesus did.
Without Easter Sunday, the Christmas story would just be another tale about a baby born in difficult circumstances.
It was the ending that made the beginning a reason to celebrate.
Kent Bush is the publisher of the Butler County Times Gazette and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org