A little girl found herself in the church Christmas pageant and sang the assigned carol with gusto, though in error: “While shepherds washed their socks by night / all seated on the ground / the angel of the Lord came down / and glory shown around / and glory shown around."
Actually, the shepherds “watched their flocks by night”—an important job in ancient Israel. The sheep provided food and clothing for the people, but the shepherds were assigned the lowest social class in Hebrew society. Their work prevented the ritual washings and regular Sabbath observance required by the Old Testament law and Jewish tradition.
It’s interesting that the Christmas angels first brought news of the messiah’s birth to these men—the least in that society. God wanted all the world to know that Christ came not just for the educated and esteemed wise men who were at the top of “the most admired” list, but also for the poor and the powerless shepherds who didn’t make the list.
Everyone is significant in the kingdom of God.
Some scholars believe there was another divine rationale in this saga of the shepherds.
Jewish rabbis kept a written record called the Mishna. The Mishna states that the flocks for the temple sacrifices were kept near Bethlehem. These flocks were used constantly for religious observance and the ritual ensuring forgiveness of sin.
Could it be that these shepherds in Luke’s narrative were the ones who kept the flocks used for daily sacrifices in nearby Jerusalem? If so, it’s significant that they learned of God’s perfect lamb who came to offer a sacrifice for sin not for a day, but once and for all time.
The lives of these shepherds were never the same again. The gospel writer recorded that they went everywhere telling everyone what they’d seen and heard. Men of the pasture became preachers.
And so it is with all who believe God and trust in the work of his son. Their lives are transformed.
Some years ago a South Carolina bureaucrat sent a letter to a food stamp recipient in that state. The letter read, “Dear Sir, I regret to inform you that your food stamp eligibility will cease on March 31 due to your death. May God bless you. You may reapply if there is a change in your circumstances.”
The message of Christmas is that our creator God hasn’t left us to live lives of despair. He took the initiative and provided the one who brings an abundance of hope. With his help, you and I can have a significant and improved change in circumstances.