Nobodies Were the First to Know

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When God announced the birth of Christ to sweaty, uncouth shepherds, he signaled something important about the kind of Messiah he was sending.

A couple of years ago, I had the opportunity to appear on a top-rated national morning show. When I got the email confirming my appearance, my stomach tightened a bit, and I think my feet lifted off the ground. My first thought was, Wow, this will sell a ton of books. And my second thought was, Do I need to buy a new suit? I was excited and yet very, very nervous. Somehow I managed to get through the experience without totally embarrassing myself.

Being on a big-time television news show is one of the best ways to try to announce big news. Public-relations professionals work hard at securing these opportunities, trying to get their guests in front of millions of eyeballs. But when God announced the birth of Jesus to the world, he used the opposite approach. He didn’t send Jesus to 30 Rock, but sent the host of Heaven to a common field outside Bethlehem. And the people he chose as his spokesmen were unpolished, sweaty, uncouth shepherds.

Today shepherds are romanticized in nearly every Christmas pageant. Many of us have donned a modified pillowcase and grabbed a walking stick to appear in a Christmas pageant at church or school. But in the first century, nobody thought shepherds were cute. And certainly nobody thought they were important. But there they were, the first to know at Christmas.

A Kingdom for Outsiders

Shepherds were not really considered part of polite society in those days. They were required to tend their flocks outside the city gates. The only reason shepherds had any significance was because sheep were a valuable commodity, especially as it got closer to Passover, when many lambs would be sacrificed in the temple.

The work of shepherds was (and still is) extraordinarily difficult. They had to wrangle obstinate …

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