The angels announced their tidings to shepherds. I
will remember that where man sees a shepherd,
God may see a king. I don’t have to be “great” in
the eyes of the world to serve the Kingdom.
There are times when God comes to us in the whispers of life and times that He comes with trumpets blaring and all of the hosts of Heaven. In both, He tends to come into our world quietly… to those ready to perceive Him. In the quiet moments, we are most attentive to His message—we have to lean in to hear Him.
When He comes with fanfare, He comes to the simple, not the great. To the great, He sends His prophets to share His counsel and will. To the simple, He comes with the glory of Heaven to raise up what is lowly in this world. The great of the world have their reward now. The simple of the world await the glory of Heaven. Our Lord’s birth was celebrated by angel choirs to shepherds tending their flocks in the field.
Through conquest, exile, and all of their troubles, God promised a messiah to Israel. Although they seemed to anticipate a temporal deliverer from their national woes rather than God-in-the-flesh to deliver them from sin and death, the people of Israel were taught what to expect. His promises were announced centuries before fulfillment and God is a Father who fulfills His promises. As our Lord walked among them, He referred back to Scripture and the prophets to explain what they were seeing (Matt 11:4-5). From His birth, He fulfilled all that was foretold about Him.
“And you, Bethlehem, land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
since from you shall come a ruler,
who is to shepherd my people Israel” (Matt 2:6).
Bethlehem is a community south of Jerusalem. Between them were fields open for shepherding flocks. It is believed that the shepherds out on the night of our Lord’s birth were those tasked by the Temple to provide lambs for the Passover sacrifice. These lambs must be male, one year old, and unblemished. The time of our Lord’s birth is the time to be birthing these lambs so they would be ready in about a year. The young lambs were wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in mangers until they were strong enough to go to their mothers—to ensure they would remain unblemished. In other words… these shepherds were familiar with the liturgical significance and requirements of sacrificial lambs.
Now there were shepherds in that region living in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock. The angel of the Lord appeared to them and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were struck with great fear. The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was a multitude of the heavenly host with the angel, praising God and saying:
“Glory to God in the highest
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests” (Luke 2:8-14).
Meeting an angel must be a frightening experience in its magnificence. Coming in the name of God, their first message is always to “be not afraid.” In fear, our first parents failed to trust God and fell from grace (Heb 2:14-15). The angels never want to be the cause of our separation from Him who is love personified. Their role is to guide us to Heaven (Heb 1:14).
Why shepherds? I see two reasons…
- The great of the world wouldn’t understand the majesty of our Lord in a stable—the significance of the scene would be lost on them. They would see just a poor family huddled with the livestock, not the King of Heaven—the Lamb of God. As Jesus was rejected by the great of society during His ministry (Matt 21:15), He would have been rejected in the manger. Their pride blinds them to true greatness—especially when it threatens their perceptions of their own majesty (Luke 19:47).
- Our Lord, the Son of David, identifies with shepherds. He is the Good Shepherd who came to lay down His own life for His sheep (John 10:11). His coming as a shepherd was foretold by the Prophets (Ez 34). Shepherds, waiting for one of their own, are the first to recognize Him and teach others from their knowledge and perception.
When the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the infant lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. All who heard it were amazed by what had been told them by the shepherds. And Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them (Luke 2:15-20).
Two of the Gospels open with a genealogy of our Lord. One shows His lineage through David to Joseph. The other shows Mary’s ancestry. Both proclaim Jesus as the Son of David and heir to his throne. St Paul saw the importance of our Lord’s ancestry in the flesh (Rom 1:1-3). From His throne in Heaven, Jesus speaks as the Son of David (Rev 22:16). Scripture records many things Jesus and David had in common (beginning with their birth in Bethlehem in 1 Sam 16:1) and the many ways Jesus administers His Kingdom according to the customs established in David’s house.
- David was a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22) while Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father united with His heavenly Father in Love (John 17:20-23).
- David was anointed for his ministry (1 Sam 16) as was Jesus in His baptism (Matt 3:13-17).
- David was a priest-king (Ps 110) as is our Lord (Heb 7:1-3).
- David was a shepherd who became a king (1 Sam 17:34). Jesus is the King who came to be our shepherd (Ez 34).
- With his commoner upbringing, David was a man of the people—even criticized for “debasing himself” for dancing in public before the Ark of the Covenant (2 Sam 6:20-22). Jesus spent His days among the least and the lost and was criticized for befriending sinners (Matt 11:19).
- Solomon, son of David, had 12 royal governors (1 Kings 7). Our Lord chose 12 Apostles.
- One among the ministers of the kingdom was the prime minister with the keys to the kingdom as a symbol of his office (Is 22:15-24). Jesus laid this office on Peter (Matt 16:18-19).
- David didn’t have a queen mother but his son Solomon did. In the Davidic Kingdom, the queen mother was given a throne and honored (1 Kings 2:19). She had the ear of the king (1 Kings 2:20). At the Wedding at Cana, Jesus shows that He will not refuse His mother even if His time had not yet come (John 2:4-8).
- David was not a perfect man but when reconciliation was needed, his penance was real (Ps 25:11). Our Lord bore our iniquities (Is 53:5).
- David was betrayed by one of his trusted ministers who hanged himself (2 Sam 18). Jesus was betrayed by one of his own Apostles who also hanged himself (Matt 27:3-5).
- In his betrayal, David left Jerusalem and ascended the Mount of Olives (2 Sam 15:30) as did our Lord while Judas went to betray Him (Luke 22:39).
- David accepted God’s will in great and small ways—even seeing His will in the taunting of an enemy (2 Sam 16:10). Jesus perfectly does the will of His Father (John 5:19).
- David was merciful to the contrite (2 Sam 19:16-24) just as our Lord invited the good thief on the cross to Heaven (Luke 23:43).
- David conquered the enemies of Israel (1 Chron 18). Our Lord conquered sin and death (Rom 6:23).
- David showed great loyalty and lavished rewards on those loyal to him (2 Sam 9). Our Lord promised to prepare a place for us in Heaven to be with Him forever (John 14:3).
When sent to anoint David, Samuel couldn’t see what God saw in him. Samuel looked to the image of the man before him for kingly bearing (1 Sam 16:6). God looks at the heart (1 Sam 16:7). God’s will for us is salvation and to come to know the truth (1 Tim 2:4). If we would do the will of God, we should spend our time as Jesus taught us—in fasting, the giving of alms, and prayer (Matt 6:1-18). Greatness in the Kingdom of God comes through humility (Matt 18:3-4). Christ didn’t come with stately bearing that we should take notice of Him (Is 53:3). If we would be conformed to Him, we shouldn’t seek exaltation by the world.
When God puts a calling on our hearts, He isn’t telling us to become great in the eyes of the world to accomplish His purpose. We have a tendency to look at ourselves as the world does and not see what God sees. In order to do great things, we must become great… we think. This thinking derails our mission as we seek self-improvement before obedience and often leads to failure as we fear to obey God before the powers of the world.
History tells a different story. Those who did great things in humility have the best stories. If we make any boast, let it be for God who does great things through us.
Consider your own calling, brothers. Not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. Rather, God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong, and God chose the lowly and despised of the world, those who count for nothing, to reduce to nothing those who are something, so that no human being might boast before God. It is due to him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, as well as righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Whoever boasts, should boast in the Lord” (1 Cor 1:26-31).
It isn’t our worldly greatness that gives us the ability to do the will of God, it’s our obedience. In faith, we hear. In trust, we comply. In love, we believe. If we would be conformed to Christ, we must become the servant of others.
But Jesus summoned them and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave. Just so, the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matt 20:25-28).