WHY USE SHEPHERDS?
The Bible teaches that the coming of the Messiah or the Christ was the most important event in human history. Prophets predicted the event for centuries and intellectuals were able to determine where and from whom the king of the Jews would come. Yet, when he came, he did not fit into their framework (Jn.7: 52). The theological intelligentsia had decided what the Messiah would do. Primarily, he would endorse their policies. The truth was and still is that the Messiah does not fit into a box designed by humans. Human intentions at best do not advance the intentions of Christ. God did not trust the brightest minds then and it is doubtful He can today (I Cor.1: 20-31; 2: 6-10). Just think what we have done with Christmas? Now, even Santa has to give way to Frosty the Snowman.
During the birth of Jesus, God sent an angel and a choir to shepherds that lived with their sheep. These were not people that Western theologians have depicted as simplistic and ignorant. Rather, these were individuals, people trusted with their possessions. I have seen such trusted servants in Europe during a time when we were bordering on starvation. They laid their life on the line for their sheep. Sheep are absolutely defenseless animals. Like David, before he became king, fought off lions and thieves. These were rugged individuals that defied the elements of nature. Their code of ethics was trust. The fact that God called on shepherds to spread the good news is evidence that He too trusted these shepherds.
Shepherds can be compared to being “child-like.” Jesus had to tell his inner circle, “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt.18: 3). Children have no problem with accepting a message and then deliver it. For instance, when Gabriel told Zechariah that he would father a son, he doubted. It was too complicated for him to believe in what seemed impossible. In contrast, Mary was child-like enough to believe Gabriel that God could use a virgin. A similar mentality was present in the shepherds. They were receptive to the angel’s announcement that the Savior had arrived and that they would find him as a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a crib. They said to each other, “Let us go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about” (Lk.2: 15).
The response to the shepherds was and still is puzzling. We are told, “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 what the shepherds said to them” (Lk.2: 17). Only the mother of the baby Jesus treasured the shepherd’s message. The people that saw and heard were amazed at what the shepherds were saying and not at what they were seeing and hearing. They did not spread the message of the Savior because it seemed too simplistic. It was shepherd’s talk. It had not come from the religious leaders that expected a powerful military genius like King David. To the contrary, the Messiah was coming from the bottom up and not from the top down. On Christmas, God turned our clock back. Salvation began with a baby and not with an adult. Adults must become “child-like” to be saved. A nation must begin with the children, if it wants to be saved. And our teachers must become like the shepherds, humble and simple enough to believe in a God that can do the impossible. We do need the impossible and we have become too sophisticated to be useful. There is a colloquial prayer that fits us: “This ain’t no time for boys, come yo-self Lo-d.”