That night there were shepherds staying in the fields nearby, guarding their flocks of sheep. Suddenly, an angel of the Lord appeared among them, and the radiance of the Lord’s glory surrounded them. They were terrified, but the angel reassured them. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. 11 The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.” Suddenly, the angel was joined by a vast host of others—the armies of heaven—praising God and saying, “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.” When the angels had returned to heaven, the shepherds said to each other, “Let’s go to Bethlehem! Let’s see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” (NLT)
This very familiar passage conjures up images of children from church families wearing precariously adorned tea towels being suitably impressed by other such children wearing white wings. Like lots of Christmas imagery today, it can conceal as much truth as it reveals. Take the shepherds for example. They were on the outskirts of society, sticking to their impoverished rural existence. A rough and tough lot who weren’t invited to anyone’s dinner parties.
In this case, they were summonsed to something far more impressive than a formal banquet. They were invited to bear the first human witness to the God of heaven and earth being born as a human being. Forget the lawyers and scholars, the wealthy and the powerful. God showed himself first to a bunch of sheep herders who were not on anyone’s invite list.
And so a pattern began that continued throughout the adult years of Jesus. He would stubbornly insist on inviting roughnecks to meet with him. He reached to the outer circle of society to find those who needed him most. He did it at Bethlehem. He did it at Golgotha. He did it at all times in between. He came to win the losers.