Angels and Shepherds in One Place
We know that of all people in the ancient world and even among the Jews, shepherds were among the least respected, which seems odd given that their greatest king (David) from whose ancestry the Messiah was to come began life as a shepherd. It is also the image employed throughout the Bible of God’s ministers, be they good or bad. But the fact is, they were outcasts in that world; their work left them “unclean” by ritualistic standards (and, I suppose, by the fact that it is the kind of work where one dirties one’s hands). Nor were they considered especially trustworthy individuals; indeed, their testimony was not even accepted in a courtroom. They were certainly a cut above prostitutes and tax collectors, but still near the bottom rung of society. Needless to say, they were among the poorest of the poor.
And it was to these people God chose to send the angelic choir; that is, people of no account before the world and whom, if they chose to tell others of their experience (which they did), no one would believe, anyway. (And God is just in acting this way since it would be people’s own prejudice and unbelief that would render them condemned.) So God’s Son is born to people of no standing before the world, whose birth is announced to people of even worse standing before the world—in a stable (or cave), sleeping in an animal’s feeding trough. AND THIS IS EXACTLY THE WAY GOD WANTED IT TO HAPPEN.
So let’s examine matters a bit further. These poor, outcast shepherds are visited by angels—angels, mind you—the highest creature of God’s creation, before whom no king could stand. (Remember, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God.” That would make me sweat!) And in this one scene, angels and shepherds meet—the one group of beings full of glory, lighting up the sky, singing a chorus with such beauty and majesty no earthly choir could ever match, and the other group of beings, tired and worn from the day’s labor, dirt covering their clothes, hands, and perhaps their faces, wide-eyed at the heavenly scene above them, announcing the greatest news ever told to any group of people on earth before that very moment—the highest creatures of God meeting the lowest people of God, and yet, before the majesty of their common Creator, the glory of the angels is as darkness and the darkness of the shepherds is as light (Psalm 139:11-12).
Poor Mary; her head must have been pounding. But she treasured all these things and pondered them in her heart—and so should we.