Christmas proves that God takes a deep interest in the so-called “unimportant people.” He arranged to have Jesus, the Son of God, born to a young peasant girl in an obscure village. It’s almost as if God were going out of His way to say, “Listen, we know that people of privilege expect privilege. It’s the underprivileged who never expect anything, so I’m going to aim at them. I’m going to give them the privilege of playing a leading role in My redemptive plan.”
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. (Luke 2:8-11)
In that cultural context, shepherds were nomadic lowlifes. When the gospels tell us that there were shepherds living out in the fields, that’s exactly what it means. They had to live by their wits in a rugged wilderness. They were rough folk who were always on the move, never putting down roots. When shepherds passed through town, people warned each other. Folks locked up their valuables and their daughters, keeping a respectable distance.
God sent a myriad of singing angels to announce the Good News to disliked and distrusted shepherds. In His unfathomable grace, God chose lowlife shepherds to be the first to hear of Christ’s birth. Once again, the Lord of the universe demonstrated that He intentionally reaches out to the underprivileged, the dispossessed, the shunned, the lowly, and those without hope.
Why a dramatic visit from angelic messengers? Because the people of Israel in those days had not heard a prophetic voice for hundreds of years. They were dull of hearing; their hearts were calloused. Their interest in the things of God was at a low ebb. With the angels’ appearance God intervened into their affairs and burst onto the scene to grab their attention in no uncertain terms.
These least and lost shepherds listened to the angels’ message, and in the midst of this encounter “the glory of the Lord shone around them.” It is impossible for any human being in a natural condition to look upon God and survive. But, occasionally, in various ways, the Lord gives mortals a glimpse of His brilliant glory, majesty, and purity. That is what happened here. Although the shepherds probably had been told over and over again that they were worthless, God in His glory shined upon them.