As I was thinking this morning about the shepherds, an image of Charlie Brown’s Christmas came to mind, particularly the scene where Linus explains to Charlie Brown what Christmas is all about. Linus walks center stage with his blanket, and recites Luke’s account of angels announcing the good news of the Savior to shepherds out in the fields:
Luke 2:8 And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
After making his speech, Linus quietly walks over to Charlie Brown and says, “That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.” [Enjoy the video clip on YouTube.]
The image of shepherds, sitting on a gentle sloping hillside under a starry sky, watching over their sleeping sheep… It’s a classic image of peace and tranquility, of the beauty of nature, and yet of the commonplace and mundane. The sudden appearance of the angels, shining with God’s glory, must have been startling, shocking, and incredibly frightening.
Did you ever wonder why God sent angels to announce the birth of His Son to a group of shepherds? After all, they were a bunch of nobodies.
Wouldn’t it have made more sense to send the angels to make the grand announcement to the religious leaders? It surely would have changed things. Jesus would have been famous from day one! Of course, the priests would have argued with the scribes and Pharisees over who should be supervising Jesus in the process of preparing Him to assume His rightful position as Messiah. If they had their way, Jesus would not have had time to learn carpentry from Joseph. Most likely, by the time Jesus was full grown, they would have gathered armies for Him to lead in overthrowing the Romans, although, the Romans wouldn’t have sat idly by watching the Israelites prepare for war…
But, no, that was not God’s plan.
God announced the birth of His Son to the shepherds especially because they were simple shepherds. In the eyes of the people, shepherds may have been considered nobodies, but in God’s eyes, every person is valuable, and in His heart, every person is loved. People may divide other people into socially acceptable categories, but God doesn’t do that.
The shepherds had no hidden agendas. When they heard God’s good news, they simply went into Bethlehem to see for themselves. Afterward, they told everyone what they had seen and heard, glorifying and praising God.
One of my favorite parts of the Christmas story is tucked into Luke’s account of the shepherds. Luke says,
And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. (Luke 2:18-19, emphasis mine)
I picture young, teenaged Mary with baby Jesus sleeping in her arms. She is gazing into His face, his tiny fingers curled around her thumb. Joseph and the shepherds are nearby, noisily praising God, re-telling the fantastic story over and over of the glory of the angelic host and the good news of the Messiah. But Mary says not a word. Her eyes are fixed upon the face of baby Jesus as she drinks in the awe of His presence – a tiny, helpless infant, laying in her arms. Jesus. Her Messiah. Her Savior. Her Son. The Son of God.