The Shepherds and the Angels
8 And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9 And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. 2 And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.”13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
15 When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” 16 And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. 17 And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. 18 And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them.19 But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. 20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.–Luke 2 ESV
The Shepherds and the Shepherd King
The angel Gabriel told Mary, “you…will bring forth a Son, and shall call His name Jesus. He…will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David….”–David, the shepherd Psalmist, who was chosen by God as king of Israel.
In Genesis, God himself is called “the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel”(49:24).
The Patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—were all shepherds. Moses, the shepherd, shepherded God’s people for over forty years.
The shepherd David’s most famous Psalm begins, “The LORD is my shepherd.”
The shepherd Amos ended his prophecy of terrible judgments with the promise that, “In that day I will restore the fallen house of David….”
How wondrous, then, that an angel declared this to Shepherds of Bethlehem, “…behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.
“For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.”
Still, today, in struggling with the existential conundrum of God vis a vis the Jewish people, a rabbi denotes ‘shepherd’ as “a root metaphor” standing behind the “community’s beliefs, values and behavior.”*
Modern attempts to dismiss the story of the shepherds as legendary propose motives such as this: “God’s grace is revealed to a group of people held in low regard (e.g. as thieves) by the Jews. But the evidence for this [low regard] is late…” (Luke, I. Howard Marshall).
Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel notes: “In a Midrash to the Book of Psalms, the third century [A.D.] Rabbi Yosi bar Hanina noted that there is no occupation more degrading than that of a shepherd who walks around like a beggar holding a staff and bag in hand.”*
Taking this later situation which followed the destruction of Jerusalem and the dispersion of Israel and applying it to the time of Jesus, the Good Shepherd (John 10), creates an anachronism.
Making Christ Known
May we be mindful that we are called to respond to the Angel’s message just as the Shepherds did. For all who have “washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb….the Lamb who is in the midst of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to fountains of the waters of life”(Rev. 7:17).
*Rabbi Michael Leo Samuel, A Shepherd’s Song: Psalm 23 and the Shepherd Metaphor in Jewish Thought (New York: Kodesh Press, 2014).