Christmas is for you: Shepherds… Really?


As we continue around our nativity scenes, we find the shepherds. Just moments before they were out in the fields keeping an eye on their sheep when an angel showed up.

Shepherd from our home nativity.

Shepherds were not considered part of polite, proper society. Photo by Joe Iovino.

I tend to romanticize shepherds. The ones in our nativity sets are often ruggedly handsome men, whom I assume were deep thinkers who enjoyed the peace and solitude out in the fields.

Truth be told, I think of them as movie cowboys sitting around the campfire sharing songs, stories, and folk wisdom about God and life. Yes, I know that’s Jack Palance’s Curly in City Slickers and not a shepherd, but you get the point. (How’s that for a 25-year-old “contemporary” reference?)

Luke and Matthew’s first readers would not have shared that opinion. After days, sometimes weeks, in the fields with the sheep, the smell alone must have been… well…

In the first century, shepherds were outsiders who were often shunned by polite society. They had a reputation for operating on the edge of the law, coming to town only when they needed supplies. If they didn’t have enough cash, some resorted to shoplifting.

Shepherds would not have been anyone’s first choice to communicate a message to be shared with the masses. So why would God choose these guys?

These guys?

When you consider the audience, the angels’ message is curious (Read it | Watch Linus read it).

The first angel tells the shepherds this is good news for all people, but they would not have been credible witnesses to many others. They were not trusted and probably wouldn’t be believed when they tell this story.

They may not be the best to communicate God’s message, but they are an excellent object lesson for this truth. If anyone doubted that Jesus was born to those on the outskirts of the faith, the shepherds represent a resounding, “Yes!” This is good news, not just for the religious, but for ALL people, even shepherds.

God has a habit of not caring about what people thing of those whom he chooses. David, King David whom I mentioned in the Joseph post, was almost overlooked for consideration as king. He was in the fields watching sheep when Samuel showed up to find the new king from Jesse’s family (1 Samuel 16:1-13). Even his dad didn’t consider him “right” for the job, but God did.

Who God favors

The first angel is joined by a bunch of others who say something else curious, considering the audience. God is bringing peace to those whom he favors.

We often read this as a qualifying statement, as if there are God-pleasers to whom God is bringing peace, and others who are not in on the promise.

If we insist on reading the passage this way, the angels are at best lost, and at worst mean. They are telling the shepherds God’s peace is for someone else. No one thought these poor, petty thieves, pleased God. These are the wrong people.

Really!?! A favorite SNL Weekend Update segment.

Really!?! A favorite SNL Weekend Update segment.

What if, however, the angels aren’t lost or mean? Maybe something else is going on here.

The angels are not drawing lines between groups of people—God-pleasers and “others.” Instead, they are reminding the shepherds—and us—of the creation story, something John also does to open his gospel.

When God creates human beings in his image, that Bible says he is pleased with what he has made (Genesis 1:26-31). This is a big deal.

If you have been reading fast, slow down for a second. Don’t miss this.

You please God

God is pleased with you. You are God’s handiwork; the masterpiece of our creator God. You were made with love.

No matter the circumstances of your family of origin, choices you have made, the amount of difficulty you encounter, your mistakes, or anything else, you are pleasing to God. He may not be thrilled with every decision you make, but he made you. He’s proud of you. He loves you.

The angels send the shepherds to go to Jesus, because he is their savior. God is bringing peace to them through this baby, because God is pleased with them. The same is true for you and me today.

God’s love, grace, forgiveness, and peace are available to all—even you, even me. God sent the angels to shepherds so you and I would know we are in on the promise too. God loves us, and has come to bring us peace.

Still think Christmas isn’t for you? Take a look at the shepherds. You belong.


Note: Christmas is for you is a series of edited versions of a much larger piece intended to help us understand that Jesus came for people who have flawed, messy, imperfect lives just like you and me. 

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