It really makes no sense.
Angels are impressive. Their appearance makes an impression. At least when they are in full uniform. They can show up, we hear, looking like regular people. Abraham, for example, didn’t know that his supper guests were more than wandering strangers. And if Abraham didn’t catch on, we have some excuse.
Other times, however, they show up at full volume. When that happens, people get scared. How do we know? Because they have to say, “don’t be afraid.” Over and over and over.
And on the morning we know as Christmas morning (though it may actually have been Easter morning, though Easter hadn’t been invented yet), angels in full floodlight mode showed up to say “don’t be afraid” to shepherds.
Shepherds. What a waste of heavenly wattage.
Shepherds were important because of what they produced. The sheep were used for food and for religious sacrifices. The demand for both kept them in business.
Their work, however, left them ceremonially unclean. As a result, they were like the church custodian whose work fixing the boiler leaves him too messy to walk into the sanctuary.
To give shepherds an important message makes about as much sense as telling the town gossip. No one would believe…
Wait a minute.
What if you wanted to get a message spread to as many people in as many classes of society as possible?
- Mightn’t you tell someone who has lots of connections, someone who no one trusts, exactly, but who many people will hear?
- Mightn’t you tell someone who would be so amazed at hearing a message from angels and finding it to be accurate that they told everyone?
- Mightn’t you tell people who told each other stories about the time that someone just like them had been picked to be a king. And not just any king, but The King?
- Mightn’t you tell someone who appreciated being told?
It does make sense, I suppose, as I think about it. But who would even stop to think about them?
Unless, of course, it was someone who had a weakness for shepherds. Someone who understood their compassion for lambs, their commitment in the face of weather and wildness, their willingness to do whatever. Someone who thought of himself as a shepherd of sorts. And who cared for sheep with that same intensity and willingness to endure almost anything. Someone who didn’t exactly care about being misunderstood.
Maybe shepherds do make sense to be the first evangelists in a word of mouth campaign about hope even for underdogs.
“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2