So what’s your favorite Christmas movie or TV special? My wife loves How The Grinch Stole Christmas (the animated one, natch), and up until recently I would've answered that question with a firm It’s A Wonderful Life. But a few years ago I rediscovered The Charlie Brown Christmas Special. It’s got some hilarious moments (Lucy giving Linus “five reasons” to do what she tells him to do), but my absolute tear-producing scene is the one below:
The thing is, I think we’re so used to the story that we might forget a huge irony here. We’ve sentimentalized the part about the shepherds, but we need to keep in mind an important point: Shepherds were not looked upon very highly. It was considered a ritually unclean profession, and probably no child grew up saying “I hope when I get big I get to be a shepherd!” They were exposed to the elements, they faced dangers from wild animals, and the pay certainly wasn’t great.
But these were the people to whom God chose to announce the birth of his Son. He didn’t send the angels to a king or to priests or to the religious leaders. He sent his mighty servants to people in the most humble profession.
Of course, this disdain for shepherds has no backing from God’s word. All the patriarchs were shepherds. The greatest king of Israel—David—was pulled from the fields. But most importantly, the Lord, through his word, repeatedly compared himself to a shepherd and Israel to a wandering flock, like here.
Why did the Lord compare himself so much to a shepherd? Well, the image certainly fits well. If you investigate the job of a shepherd and the nature of sheep, then it’s a great metaphor for our relationship with the Lord.
But I think there’s more to it when we examine the question of why he sent birth-announcement angels to shepherds and no one else. He’s always had a special place in his heart for the least of these: The nobodies, the poor, the ones who aren’t famous and who don’t have the glamorous jobs. He never overlooks the overlooked.
That’s why this story is so important to all of us. It’s an important preview of the ministry of our Lord Jesus, who made his home-base Galilee “of the Gentiles.” And of course during his ministry he commanded all his disciples to follow his example in caring for the ones no one else cares about. And when he returns, we’re in store for more than a few surprises: He will comfort those who mourn and will dry every tear. And more than a few people will be made famous whose names you’ve never heard.
That’s why we need to take a closer look at this story. Familiarity can breed contempt, or at least dull the wonder. The angel/shepherd scene is a great picture of what Christmas is all about: Heaven reaching down to the humblest among us. When the angels came and announced that this “good news of great joy” will be for “for all the people,” that’s you and me. And the lower you are, the better the news it is.
Lord Jesus, thank you for coming for me. You came to rescue me. The announcement of the angels is for me. Let me follow the example of the shepherds, and spread the news.