Today’s reading is Luke 2:10-20:
10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”
15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
The story of Luke 2:1-20 is easily one of the most famous passages in the Bible and provides a strong archetype for responding to the Good News. If you haven’t read it in a while just picture the classic nativity scene: baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, and typical cast of characters who show up for a royal birth. Except this isn’t the typical cast of characters.
In the Lucan account the Holy Family is visited by a group of shepherds. As a reminder, shepherds are people that hang out with sheep all day. These were “peasants located at the bottom of the scale of power and privilege” (Green, 1997, p. 130). Not exactly the courtly type. Yet they were summoned by angelic call to attend the birth of the King of Kings.
The extension of invitation to the poor and not the powerful is a critical point in understanding the Kingdom of God more broadly. In the Kingdom of God, “not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are” (1 Cor. 1:26b-28, NIV).
But this is more than an invitation; apart from the parents of Jesus and John, the shepherds were the first people to hear the Gospel. “But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord’” (Luke 2:10-11).
Their response serves as a model for responding to the Good News. After hearing the news from the angel, they followed in both faith and obedience. The ride from their location to Bethlehem could be thought of as walking from Dunster to the Quad in January on the rumor of free cookies. Except this was a tad more important. The shepherds responded in faith and did so with haste.
Finally, as Green has aptly pointed out, “the shepherds become, together with Anna (2:38), the first evangelists of Luke-Acts” (Green, 1997, p. 138). When they returned from Bethlehem they shared the Good News they heard. Their response is one we should also imitate. In fact, we (arguably) have even greater reason to do so. The shepherds did receive Good News about the birth of a Messiah but it is uncertain they understood the full salvific scope of the birth. This language would have pulled on both Jewish and Roman understandings of “Good News,” “Savior,” and “Messiah.” While Christians today understand the Messiah as the Savior of all mankind from sin and death, the shepherds would have likely understood the Good News of the Messiah as referring to a Davidic deliverer. Whatever they did or did not understand, we benefit from the entire New Testament canon, which informs us on the full significance of the birth of Jesus.
Looking to the shepherds as archetypes, we can draw a few lessons. First, God often chooses to honor those who come from the bottom and not the top. This might be a hard pill to swallow for Harvardians. Perhaps the best thing we can do is to strive for humility and meekness in heart. Second, the proper response to the Good News (and God in general) is one of immediate obedience and faith. Indeed, there is little separation between the two. Third, the shepherds and many who encountered Jesus in the Gospels responded by boldly sharing the Good News with a great sense of urgency. Without their fervent desire to share the Gospel, Christianity would be a vague cult in the footnotes of ancient history books.
Daniel Lowery ’16 is a Government Concentrator in Dudley House.