Day 21 | Unlikely Witnesses
When a great world leader makes a visit, he or she is greeted with much fanfare by other world leaders. Red-carpet welcomes and lavish state dinners announce the important event. At this season we celebrate a birth, a visit to our world from someone whom the Christian faith declares to be far more important than any world leader—our Lord himself, Jesus. But his birth was not marked by any direct announcement to the world leaders of his day (the Roman Emperor or his regent in Israel, Herod), or to the movers and shakers of his society (the Jewish religious leaders). Instead, Luke 2:8-14 indicates that an announcement was made to some shepherds who were tending their flocks at night. This was a most unlikely announcement, and yet a most appropriate one as well.
Because shepherds were always walking in sheep waste and touching dead animals, they were always ceremonially unclean according to Jewish law. So they were never allowed to worship in the Temple, and thus occupied the lowest rung on the social ladder of the day. They were the untouchables of their society, and so the angel’s action in Luke 2 is shocking. Why make such a stunning announcement to such an unlikely audience?
But this is not all. Those to whom the angel appeared in Luke 2 do not seem to have been ordinary shepherds. We have evidence that there was a designated group of shepherds whose task was to raise the lambs that were to be sacrificed in the Temple in Jerusalem. These “temple shepherds” and the lambs they cared for resided in fields outside of Bethlehem. Recognizing this enables us to see the appropriateness of choosing these shepherds as the first ones to whom the announcement of Jesus’ birth was made.
These people who raised the lambs for Temple worship but were never allowed to take part in that worship, who were outcasts even though they were indispensable to Jewish religious life, were the ones the Lord chose as the first non-family members to hear about, and to behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.
By Dr. Donald Fairbairn, Academic Dean and Professor of Early Christianity, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Charlotte Campus