Luke 2:8-10 “And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.”
Take a moment to consider the identity of those who play the part of servants, and those who are served in this part of the Christmas story. The shepherds look like likely candidates for the part of servants. As you may know, the position of shepherd did not enjoy much honor or respect in Jesus’ day. In part this was their own fault. An increasing number of them had given in to thieving from the very flocks they were supposed to be watching. Many of them had become lazy, according to ancient writers.
In part their reputation was due to the pride of their more sophisticated countrymen, who made their living more by wits and cleverness than by hands and hard work. That tendency still exists today, doesn’t it? Those whose learning and education have paved the way to a higher standard of living look down on those who still sweat and get their hands dirty to earn the bread they eat. The urbane and cultured see themselves as better than those who lack similar skills to succeed.
Nonetheless, these shepherds were no worse than the self-righteous, self-important people who occupied the “higher” levels of society. Better a faithful shepherd than a proud merchant, accountant, priest, or teacher of the law, no matter how lowly the shepherds appeared.
The angels, by contrast, were creatures of unearthly glory. Scripture tells us that angels always enjoy the privilege of seeing God’s holy face. No man can see that and live, at least not yet. Never lazy, dishonest, or proud, angels are completely holy and free from sin. Here the glory of the Lord himself accompanies the angel’s visit. In the presence of such a glorious, holy creature, the shepherds are filled with terror, just as every other human who ever came face to face with an angel in the Bible.
Now, here is the twist for us to ponder: The angels come as the servants. “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.’” The angels come to serve the shepherds, not the other way around. In general, this is in keeping with God’s purpose for his angels. The author of Hebrews reminds us, “Are not all angels ministering spirits, sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” Here they are God’s message boys, sent to bring good news to sinful men immeasurably less holy, less deserving of God’s favor, than themselves.
Why should this be? Doesn’t this suggest to us the treasured place we have in God’s heart? Not just these shepherds, but all of us who hear the angel’s message are honored to be so esteemed by God that he would send this announcement by way of his holy angels. Years ago I remember seeing an old invitation on my grandfather’s desk. It was an invitation to a presidential inauguration. Later I learned that it was part of a mass mailing and didn’t really get one in anywhere. Needless to say, my grandfather hadn’t gone. He wasn’t high enough on the president’s lists of friends and supporters to receive the kind of direct invitation which could have given him access to the special events.
But you and I and these humble shepherds are so high on God’s list. He doesn’t mass mail the announcement. He sends his personal representatives, the angels, to serve the shepherds and us with the Christmas good news, full of higher honors still.