When Mark and I first got married we decided to save money by taking our garbage and recycling to the dump every week. It was a great idea, but it didn’t exactly go the way we planned. We are blessed with a large garage, and with a large garage comes a lot of space. So when we skipped taking our garbage one week, it was no big deal. Then we skipped two weeks. Then three. You get the picture.
Eventually, we admitted defeat and found a company who will pick up our garbage at a more reasonable rate. Our garbage now is picked up every week at the side of the road. What did this teach me? That the people who pick up our garbage are invaluable!
Sometimes we can be tempted to look down on “dirty” jobs. We think they are for the desperate or uneducated. But imagine a town without these jobs. It would be dirty and unattractive. The quality of life for everyone would go down. So, yes, these jobs are important and the people who do them deserve our gratitude.
I picture the same being true with shepherds. In ancient cultures, being a shepherd was a dirty job. Shepherds were part of the lower class. They were undesirable even though their way of living was necessary. In Israel, animal sacrifices at the temple was of extreme importance, yet the value of the shepherd himself, the one who raised and took care of the sheep that were sacrificed, was overlooked.
Each year I find myself marveling at certain parts of the Christmas story, like the shepherds. I love that God sent the angels to the shepherds to announce the birth of His son, Jesus; not to the privileged or wealthy, but to the humble.
Imagine this with me…
A little shepherd boy follows his father into town to buy some oil and grain. As they pass by all the people, he notices that many try to avoid them. While looking at their beautiful, clean robes, he is suddenly aware of how dirty and torn his own is. He brushes away some of the dirt with his hand and looks at it. Pew! Just dirt? He wipes his hand off on his robe.
Later, as the boy sits back out in the field with the sheep, he picks up several rocks and throws them, each one harder and farther than the one before. It’s not much but it passes the time. Once he scared away a mountain lion by hitting it with rocks. With all the practice, he was pretty good at it. Besides, he knew that these sheep needed him. Especially the ones that were all white. They get the best price for those.
For a moment, he looked down at his robe again and wondered why he can’t have something nicer. Why didn’t they ever have money for better things when they sell so many sheep to the temple? He’s overheard his parents talking so he knows they don’t get much for the sheep they provide.
Ah, oh well. The boy picks up more rocks. Maybe someday things will change.
Maybe a shepherd boy such as this one saw the angel. A boy who was born into an underprivileged yet hard working family. One who was passed by as someone not worthy of notice. Someone with the stigma of being unclean.
But God did not see these shepherds as others saw them. He didn’t judge them by their profession or social status or the cleanliness of their clothes. He saw them as people. His people.
And that’s how He sees us. We are His people and He cares much more about the state of our hearts than anything else. He cares so much that He sent His son, Jesus, to be born only to die so that His goodness can cover us. So that we can have new, clean hearts.
Like the shepherds, I marvel at the angels’ appearance and the message they brought. Because of Jesus, I am made worthy. Because He died, I am forgiven. Because He was resurrected, I have new life. Because He chose me, I can choose Him.
“Don’t be afraid!” [the angel] said. “I bring you good news that will bring great joy to all people. The Savior—yes, the Messiah, the Lord—has been born today in Bethlehem, the city of David! And you will recognize him by this sign: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in strips of cloth, lying in a manger.”
Luke 2:10-12 NLT