When shepherds are out with the flock at night, there’s usually one reason: to be midwives to the ewes. Lambing season is in the spring, so it’s beautifully poetic that the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world would be born at the same time. It also upends the tradition of Christmas being in December, but the 25th is as good a date as any for celebrating.
Despite caring for the animals used in temple sacrifices, shepherds were not regarded highly by the rest of the people. Often ceremonially unclean from handling dead animals, and traveling about with the flocks kept them from being in a stable community with everyone else. And yet these men are the first to receive an invitation from God to see Jesus.
If seeing one angel is often enough to make someone faint, I can’t imagine what it would be like to see an entire army of them at once. And it is an army; that’s what “host” means in the Scriptures. Get out of your mind the image of a glowing, white-robed, winged blond person. While angels may show up that way elsewhere (minus the wings), these angels are arrayed for battle. That makes it even more amazing that their message is of peace on the earth with God.
Following the instructions of the first angel, the shepherds are able to find Mary and Joseph. That’s still kind of amazing, because while Bethlehem isn’t a large town, it was full to overflowing. A newborn baby in a manger is also not something you’d find everyday, but how would you go about searching for him?
Luke likely got this story from Mary, who “treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart.” (v. 19)
You raise up the humble, and Your priorities are perfect. Your ways are higher than our ways.