Tuesday, Dec. 24

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“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 fear.”   - Luke 2:8-9

No Christmas program is complete without its little band of gunnysack shepherds. Frightened by the angel’s sudden appearance, they marvel at the good news from the angel and rush to Bethlehem to see the Savior-King. As they return to their flocks, they praise God and tell all who will listen about the birth of the chosen Child.  They finish spreading the good tidings, leave the stage, and we hardly give them another thought.

In Christ’s day, shepherds stood on the bottom rung of the Palestinian social ladder. They shared the same unenviable status as tax collectors and dung sweepers. Only Luke mentions them.

Some shepherds earned their poor reputations, but others became victims of a cruel stereotype. The religious leaders maligned the shepherd’s good name; rabbis banned pasturing sheep and goats in Israel, except on desert plains.

The Mishnah, Judaism’s written record of the oral law, also reflects this prejudice, referring to shepherds in belittling terms. One passage describes them as “incompetent”; another says no one should ever feel obligated to rescue a shepherd who has fallen into a pit.  There are also documents indicating that shepherds were deprived of all civil rights. They could not fulfill judicial offices or be admitted in court as witnesses.  Jewish Rabbinic writings indicate that even to buy wool, milk or a lamb from a shepherd was forbidden on the assumption that it would be stolen property.

Into this social context of religious snobbery and class prejudice, God’s Son stepped forth. How surprising and significant that Father God handpicked lowly, unpretentious shepherds to first hear the joyous news: “It’s a boy, and He’s the Messiah!”   What an affront to the religious leaders who were so conspicuously absent from the divine mailing list!

Why did the announcement come to them at all? Why not to priests and kings? Who were they that they should be eyewitnesses of God’s glory and receive history’s greatest birth announcement?  I have to admit that if it were left up to me, I would probably have chosen a different group to be the very first recipients of this message.  I might have even sent the angels to Rome, to the very palace of Caesar himself.  I mean from the world’s perspective, who better to carry message of a Savior to the entire world than the ruler of the most powerful nation in that world?  

But that is not how God chose to do things.  In fact, God has never operated according to the conventions of human wisdom.  The Apostle Paul makes this point clear in 1 Corinthians when he wrote, But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.  - 1 Corinthians 1:27

The message of God sending His son into the world to save hopeless sinners is not to be accepted or rejected on the basis of the social status of those who proclaim it!  You cannot be coerced or manipulated into trusting in Jesus, because the power of the gospel is not in the strength of the messenger, but in the transforming grace of the message!

Jeff Frazier

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