I’ve often wondered why the Christmas angels chose to appear to the shepherds.
No one paid much attention to shepherds. Did they feel overlooked?
In Jesus’s day, a family would entrust the youngest son with caring for the flocks. If you feel unseen or overlooked today, read the story about King David when Samuel asks Jesse if all his sons were present. Jesse responded, “Well, there is one more, my youngest. He’s tending the sheep out in the country someplace.” (KDS interpretation) In essence, David, Israel’s future king, was overlooked by his father. He had the least important job in the family. The one that got passed down as soon as a son became old enough to handle more meaningful work. A shepherd.
Overlooked. Least important.
Does that sound familiar to you? I’ve felt that way many times throughout my life.
If shepherds were overlooked, why did the first announcement of Jesus’ birth, apart from Joseph and Mary, come to shepherds?
And, why does God use the shepherd illustration to explain how He cares for you and me?
Shepherds know their sheep.
If they didn’t, their fearful sheep wouldn’t follow them. As timid animals, sheep tend to hold anyone they don’t know is suspect. Recently, Dave and I observed a herd of sheep. As we approached the flock, we slowed down and moved slowly. Though a fence separated us from the sheep, and we had no intention of harming them, one sheep noticed us, backed away, and eventually took off at a run, followed by most of his friends. The lead sheep headed toward the barn we could see in the distance.
Sheep tend to follow their leader. Plus, they have little to no protection from predators. They run from what frightens them and band together in large groups for safety. Unfortunately, that leaves the unfortunate latecomer ripe pickings for the predator. Their strong flocking instincts (herd mentality) protect them as long as their leader leads well. As social animals, they become agitated when separated from a larger group. They need to see each other to remain calm.
To a good shepherd, every sheep matters.
When the shepherd settles his sheep down for the night, he gathers them into a hold of some sort with only one entrance and exit point. If you want to mess with a sheep, you have to go through the shepherd first.
The parable Jesus told about the shepherd securing his flock before searching for the lost sheep reminds us about the importance of the one. The shepherd took care of those with him before he searched for the one who got separated. He put someone in charge that he could trust. No abandonment here. Every flock member mattered to the shepherd.
When you feel overlooked and unimportant, you need to know you matter. Your shepherd, Jesus, searches for you. He will never abandon you.
Shepherds are reliable.
So why did God come to the shepherds first? I don’t know for sure, but I wonder if it helps us understand that you matter to Jesus no matter your political or societal position.
Maybe He knew the shepherds would pay attention. Plus, they were awake in the middle of the night because they were guarding the sheep. At least some of them were. Others might have been asleep during the night shift.
The Biblical record tells us the shepherds believed and took action. They immediately went to the place the angels told them to go. Action-takers. Love it.
Then the shepherds told everyone they met about what they’d seen and heard. They told their story in great detail. Shepherds had to watch for the small stuff if they wanted to protect their sheep. Little warning signs that a predator was nearby. Sheep who didn’t behave as usual. Symptoms of abrasion or cut on a sheep could mean infection or death. So, God told the news to people who focused on details.
In Psalm 23, God tells us in beautiful language about His care for you and me.
God, my shepherd!
I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.
Even when the way goes through
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure.
You serve me a six-course dinner
right in front of my enemies.
You revive my drooping head;
my cup brims with blessing.
Your beauty and love chase after me
every day of my life.
I’m back home in the house of God
for the rest of my life.
Read through this passage slowly.
Do you see how Jesus cares for us?
- Provides everything you and I need.
- Finds safe places for us to rest.
- Brings clean, refreshing water to drink.
- Allows us to catch our breath when we’ve been on the run.
- Points us in the right direction when we are unsure.
- Stands by our side even when life hurts.
- Guards us, so we are secure.
- Feeds us well.
- Stands guard so our enemies can’t get to us.
- Chases after us to show us His love and beauty daily.
- Provides us a home every day.
Why did God proclaim Jesus’ birth to the shepherds first?
Perhaps it was to show you and me that everyone matters. Even those on the sidelines or backside of the desert. Those whom society brushes past.
If you feel unseen or overlooked today, read the story of the shepherds in Luke 2.
Jesus, your shepherd, pays attention to every detail of your life.
He sees you when you get tangled up in life and looks for you when you lose your way. Jesus listens for your voice, checks you for cuts, scrapes, and abrasions. He never forgets you.
Pay attention to how God speaks to you today.
Look around you. What do you see that shows you God’s love? Look through the list above. Take some time to journal your answers.
During this Christmas season, don’t miss the tender care God showed you and the world. He could have announced Christ’s birth at the top of society, but He didn’t. He chose to tell the shepherds, who told the townspeople. Eventually, King Herod got the message, which was devastating for the Hebrew children.
If you feel unseen and overlooked, please reach out. I offer a listening ear and a compassionate heart.