Luke 2:8-9. “In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them…” According to the writer of the book of Luke, the shepherds listened to the angels and then ran to tell others.
In the Old Testament, owning sheep was a sign of wealth and status. My guess is, however, that the people who “kept watch over the flock” in the Gospel of Luke were not the sheep’s owners. They were hired hands and were men of very low status. In biblical times and throughout history, those charged with tending sheep in the pastures were often the young or people who preferred to be left alone. Frequently shepherds were viewed as strange or even perverted–people who liked the company of sheep over people. They almost surely didn’t smell very good. After all, they were “living in the fields.” They spent most of their time in the hills with the sheep with no shower or laundry facilities.
I am puzzled that God chose shepherds to be the first to know about the birth of his Son.
Why would God choose them to be the first ones to hear of the Christ child’s birth? Certainly shepherds weren’t chosen because they had a great deal of credibility in the community. Surely many to whom they told the story of angels appearing in the sky simply shook their heads and said, “These guys have been spending too much time alone with the sheep! They have been tipping the wineskins a little too much!”
Wouldn’t it have made more sense for the angels to appear to the innkeeper who gave Mary and Joseph shelter? He was probably a respected businessman and community member. Surely the scribes and Pharisees would have had even more credibility. Wouldn’t they, as leaders of the church, be the logical ones to be told the good news?
But then again, would they have been able to see the angels?
Perhaps the shepherds, those people who lived in the fields, were more open to wonder. They were, after all, the ones who felt the cold of the night as they looked up at the myriad of stars from their beds. They saw the sun rise in splendor each morning. They lived where the birds sang before daybreak. They were the ones who experienced the miracle of the birth of lambs, the low murmuring of ewes as they licked their babies dry and the joyous dance of lambs on a warm spring day. They did not work by the hands on a clock or measure success in status or dollars earned, but in the health and well-being of another of God’s creatures. Did their simple, solitary existence and closeness to the sheep and to nature make them more able to see the angels? Is it possible the angels appeared to others and they shook their heads and said, “I must have imagined that. If I tell anyone what I just saw, they will say that I am being irrational and crazy. Telling others will jeopardize my job. It could hurt my business.”
I can’t help but wonder, if Jesus were born in the twenty-first century, to whom would the angels appear? Would I be willing to see the angels and to hear their music? Would I recognize the wonder in what they said? Would I dare to tell anyone what I had seen?
Merry Christmas. May we allow ourselves to see the angels and to hear them singing.
Copyright © 2014 Janet Jacobson and Sustaining the Northern Plains