Text: John 1:9-14, Luke 2:8-20
The shepherd’s life was ironic.
Their job was to care for the animals that would be sacrificed to atone for the sins of the people. Yet because of their handling of these dirty creatures, they themselves were unclean and thus prevented from keeping the ceremonial law. And because they were ceremonially unclean, they were often regarded as untrustworthy and irreligious.
But when the angel appeared to tell the shepherds about the birth of the Savior, he told them Christ the Lord had been born unto them (Luke 2:11). Though they lived most of their lives on the outside looking in, they would not be outsiders to this gift. The shepherds were the recipients of it.
This was big news. The shepherds sensed it, but the angels in Heaven knew it and their behavior showed it. Initially, it was just one glorious but solitary angel who appeared to these men in Bethlehem’s fields. But as soon as he announced Jesus’s birth, “suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God” (Luke 2:13).
It was as if there were millions of angels hiding just behind some celestial door, and once they heard, “Unto you is born this day a Savior, who is Christ the Lord!” they were unable to contain their joy any longer and all rushed in, praising God, singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased” (Luke 2:14).
The spontaneous eruption of angelic praise became the lens through which the shepherds would see this moment: God was at work. This much was plain. But why had the glory of all glories appeared to the lowest of the lows? Why had the angel chosen to reveal this message to mere shepherds, unclean as they were?
Because poverty is relative. Could it be that from the perspective of heaven, the poor shepherds outside Bethlehem were no more or less poor than the rest of the world sleeping under its watch? Could it be that the poor of the earth were in fact all the people of the earth—poor in spirit, mourning and meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness (Matthew 5:2-12)? Could it be that the Savior’s coming was for them as much as it was for anyone, and for anyone as much as it was for them?
The angels gave the shepherds a sign that left them speechless. Their Messiah and Savior could be found where the young lambs were kept. He would be the one not covered in wool, but wrapped in a swaddling cloth.
When they found Jesus in the manger as the angel said, the very location of His birth was drenched in significance. The Savior had been born into their unclean world in the same manner as a lamb. The symbolism was not lost on them. He was born unto them.
When the shepherds saw Jesus there, they saw not only that He had come, but they got a hint as to why. He came to be the perfect Lamb— the ultimate, lasting sacrifice. This baby’s coming was to accomplish and establish peace between the God of all creation and His image-bearers who habitually rejected Him.
And so it would be all His days.
From the manger in Bethlehem to the cross on Calvary, Jesus moved among the people, came into their homes, touched their blind eyes, and permitted their unfaithful hands to touch Him. He taught them profound lessons from ordinary events. He defended the defenseless and opposed the self-righteous. He ate at their tables, laughed with their children, and wept over their grief.
Never did He abandon His purpose for coming, which was to die for a world of spirit-poor outsiders as the Lamb of God who takes their sin away. Jesus was born poor. He lived poor. And He died poor for the sake of His people.
The shepherds could not have known that this boy came into this world in the same way He would leave it: out in the open, among the outcast, poor, and despised, but driven by one purpose—to ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile until the Son of God appears.
written by Russ Ramsey
adapted from Behold the Lamb of God: An Advent Narrative