And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 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 Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
(Luke 2:8–12; 16-18; 20)
It can be a bit of a cliche to talk about the Shepherds as the outcasts of the nativity story; but there is so much important truth to be found in this understanding.
God didn’t want Jesus' birth to be a celebration reserved for the elite, the middle-classes, or the educated. Quite the opposite. The only people he chooses to publicly announce the moment too, via an enormous choir of angels no less, were the societal rejects.
Much like in the parable Jesus would grow up to tell, it was the loser shepherds who had VIP seats to the nativity's banqueting table.
If we're honest with ourselves, we all have that picture in our mind of our ideal student: their personality type, their way with people, their gifts. I’d hazard a guess that that picture looks a little like a perfected version of ourselves - having all of our good traits as well as the desirable ones we lack. Often the students we like the best and spend the most time with are the ones that are in someway comparable to that mental picture. I’d suggest this is normal, and even understandable, but not massively God-like.
The Shepherds demonstrate to us God's commitment to extend invitations to everyone, including (and especially) those that others would seek to write off. In the student ministry context that includes the less intelligent, more messy, and often least like us ones - the ones we wouldn’t want to hang out with or wouldn’t mind having on the fringes of things... The ones we think are a bit weird! But the nativity asks us the question:
Do we faithfully extend the invite to and seek to involve every student we’re connected to?
One thing I love about the shepherd’s story is how transformational it is for them. Not only do they go away glorifying and praising God (in a way they probably never had before - particularly given their outcast status) but, like the outcast Mary Magdalene after the resurrection, they get to be amongst the first people to share the good news about Jesus. Which leaves me wanting to ask an additional question:
Do we have the expectation that the people who accept our invitation will be transformed, and bring transformation to others, because of it?
Maybe these are two questions we need to prayerfully consider and invite God to speak into.
What else about the Shepherds inclusion encourages / inspires / challenges you?
For more Nativity-prompted reflections check out the posts below:
Photo credit: Sam Carter