The angel appeared to…shepherds?

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Luke 2:8 In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: 11 to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.

Here we have the beginning of the birth story of Jesus. What I find interesting is the appearance of the angel of the Lord to… shepherds. “Shepherd” is often used in scripture as an image for leaders of the people. Kings were often referred to as shepherds of the people. Jesus is referred to as the “good shepherd” because he led the people to life. Literal shepherds however, people who actually tended flocks, were not particularly well regarded. Here is an excerpt from one of my bible dictionaries:

“Literal shepherds were not highly esteemed in Graeco-Roman literature (e.g., Ovid, Her., 5.79). Aristotle speaks negatively of the shepherd when he writes that among men, “the laziest are shepherds, who lead an idle life, and get their subsistence without trouble from tame animals”.

If you were going to choose the ones to whom God would send an angel to give notice of Jesus’ birth, you would probably pick persons who were well-regarded, respected. But that’s not what God did here. He chose the lowly shepherds instead of one from among the rabbis or noble classes. We had already seen this theme when an angel visited Mary to tell her she would be mother to Jesus. We see this again when the angel appears to the women at the tomb after Jesus rose from the dead.

Our God is all about using unconventional, unqualified, marginal people for his purposes.

Lord it’s true that you often go against the grain of culture, passing up the likely ones and instead using persons on the margins for your purposes. Give us grace to discern how you are calling us to be your servants in our day. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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