Sunday was the first Sunday of Advent, the 4 weeks of preparation for the celebration of the coming of Jesus. Luke 2 records the appearance of angels to shepherds who, in turn, told everyone who would listen what they had heard and seen.
Using shepherds as the first spokespersons of the One who brings peace on earth is instructive. Meditating on the implications serves to prepare our hearts in Advent.
Two things surprise me about the shepherds being God’s choice to ‘advertise’ the coming of the Savior. First, shepherds were the last group in that society who would be considered credible. Religiously, they could not participate in worship because they were usually ceremonially unclean (when they touched dead animals). Socially, they were outcast because they tended to disregard the property rights of others (they often stole things while grazing their flocks on land that belonged to others). Legally, they could not serve as witnesses in a court of law (because they were considered unreliable).
That is the group that God used as witnesses to the birth of Jesus? Surprising to say the least! I can see how the wisemen were good witnesses because of the respect they commanded. But shepherds? Since God used shepherds then in seems that ALL of us are invited to be spokespersons of what we have heard and seen in Jesus. Our short-comings and failures are no excuse for being silent.
The second thing that strikes me goes even deeper. Somehow the shepherds were the very kind of people who could speak authentically of the core reality of the Good News. The Good News of the life and death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus matches the ‘upside-down’ life of the shepherds. The Good News says the poor in spirit are given the kingdom of God, those who mourn receive comfort, the meek inherit the earth. The upside-down message of the Gospel is that grace freely flows to those who least deserve it, that mercy is showered on those who embrace their brokenness, that forgiveness cannot be earned but only received by faith.
In short, the Good News the shepherds so effectively shared (“all who heard them were astonished”) makes it clear that it is in dying that we are raised to a new kind of life, that it is in surrender of our ‘old self’ that we are able to live into our ‘new, true self’, that in pardoning we are pardoned. Upside-down people are exactly the right group to proclaim this upside-down message!
I am surprised by the shepherds. Somehow they and the message they made known prepares my heart to celebrate the birth of my Messiah by sharing the message considered by many to be ‘foolish’ (1 Corinthians 1:18-25) even though I am flawed like them.