Shepherds have long been laughed at. It has always amazed me that God chose to make His big birth announcement to shepherds. Uneducated, smelly and all alone out in the fields, loved only by the sheep they looked out for, shepherds were pretty much at the bottom of the social barrel. It certainly seems an odd choice, and their initial reaction- "they were terrified"- must have had them looking for places to hide. But it was to them that the angel appeared and explained where to find the Christ-child. It was to them that the angel choir sang the magnificent words "Glory to God in the highest!" And it was them who ventured into Bethlehem to worship the newborn King and spread the word of His birth.
But of course God knew exactly what he was doing and chose exactly the right people. He chose people who were faithful. They listened to the angels and responded. They understood the exceeding great joy this announcement would bring to the people. And perhaps most importantly, they were common, unimportant and needy. They represented the very people to whom God was sending the gift of his Son. Jesus did not come just for the rich and the powerful- He was a gift to us all. The fact that God chose shepherds as his target audience for the only "flashy" part of that holy night speaks volumes. They were the very kind of common folk with whom Jesus would spend most of his life.
Today is the first Sunday in Advent. During the next 4 weeks we will light candles representing peace, hope, love and joy. Once they got past being terrified, the shepherds certainly felt great joy. And today, those who understand the gift we were given that night so many years ago know that joy as well. We live in what is so often a joyless world. To know Jesus is to understand that we can find joy even when we don't know happiness. To follow Jesus is to understand that there is joy in the journey. As you go through this season of Advent, remember that the message of the angel's visit to the shepherds is that no matter how unimportant, powerless or smelly you feel, Jesus came for you. Despite my sin and failures, Jesus was born so I could know God's love. Talk about exceeding great joy...
Jesus- the only hope for me is you...and You alone!