This scene with the shepherds and the angel mass choir is depicted every year by adult actors on stage and by little children in pageants, trying to strike the devout poses from a creche. But let’s step out of the world of the cute and the dramatic for a moment, and step into what happened with the shepherds.
Shepherds were often newcomers to the land or hired hands from lower classes. They were not at the very bottom of the social order – it wasn’t seen as an unholy job (for instance, they weren’t raising pigs), and there was always the stuff about the shepherd-King David. But it was a hard life, facing dirt and weather every day for light pay and little social position. They lived out in the fields most of the time, leaving them with few friends who weren’t also out there. They had little opportunity to leave the flock because of the ever-present dangers of predation and theft. They were just doing their usual work that night — after all, back then they weren’t being given a holiday off for Christmas!
Why did the angels bring the tidings of great joy to these shepherds? Luke doesn’t say. It may have had something to do with their poverty, but there were other poor people in the area, even many other shepherds. We don’t even read about how many shepherds were there; it could be any number from two on up. As for the heavenly multitude, well, they were strutting their stuff and putting on a party. Big doings for a little baby. I guess the shepherds knew that when a heavenly multitude says something’s important, it is. So they ran off to see this baby. Let the angels watch flocks for a while!
The infant Jesus had already come out before the shepherds were told, so he was laying there in his feedbox crib. When the shepherds arrived and saw that the choir wasn’t joking, they understood that the rest of what they were told was true too: the child was a Savior. The Messiah, their rescuer, had come. God had taken action, and came into their presence. So now they started picking up on the angels’ carol, praising God to all who were nearby along the way back.
God came to us as a baby, died as an adult, did the biggest task of all, and lives as God-With-Us. We can still pick up on the choir’s songs. Join the party!
Almighty God, you made yourself known to us in your Son Jesus, starting as a baby just like we did. Lead us from our baby faith to Christ-likeness, that we may live fully in the freedom Christ has given us. Amen.