One December night in Palestine, an American preacher looked down on a group of shepherds watching their flocks by night just before he entered the town of Bethlehem for Christmas Eve Services. This experience so touched Phillips Brooks that he wrote about it in a poem and asked the children of his Sunday school to perform it. This poem would become the song "O Little Town of Bethlehem". Dr. Brooks asked his friend Lewis Redner (who was the choir director and organist for the church) to compose a simple melody for the children to sing. The week before Christmas came, and still Redner had not found the right tune. It is said that the Saturday night before the performance he awoke and heard angelic music, which he quickly jotted down. He insisted even afterward that the melody to one of our favorite carols was "a gift from Heaven." (taken from A Season of Joy by Susan Card)
I find it interesting that a group of shepherds tending to their flocks by night inspired one of the most beautiful Christmas carols we sing today. I also find it interesting that the angels announced to the shepherds first that a Savior had been born (Luke 2:8-14). After 400 years of silence from the Lord because of the sin of His people (Ezekiel 10-11), He chose to announce to shepherds, first, the Messiah had been born!
Doesn't make a whole lot of sense because shepherds weren't regarded as being the grandest of people. They were considered to be nasty, dirty people who smelled of sheep because they spent so much time holding and comforting those frantic, furry, four-legged beasts. This band of nomad wanderers would risk their lives to save a dumb sheep because they cared so deeply for it. Shepherds didn't even have a place to call home, because their roamings took them from place to place as they sought out better pastures for their flocks to feed on.
So, why the shepherds first? Why was it so important for them to know a Savior had come? I'm not exactly sure, but I do have a few thoughts.
Could it be because the shepherds represented all mankind in his current state; nasty and dirty because of the effects sin?
Maybe it was because they were wandering all over the place, trying to find something better to satisfy an empty soul?
Could it be because this Savior would relate on a personal level with the shepherds? After all, He, Himself, would become a Shepherd. He would begin to smell of sheep because He would spend so much time with them. He would become nasty and dirty going to great lengths to save them from a roaring lion or an angry bear; and He would eventually loose His life to save theirs. Being in His presence would bring about such a peace that it would cause the sheep to lay down and rest instead of wandering all over everywhere trying to find something better; He would fulfill that deep longing they had inside them.
I think the shepherds had to know this Savior who had been born, was born for them. Even though society deemed them nasty scum of the earth, this Savior, Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, had esteemed them as precious in His sight. So precious, in fact, that He was willing to leave all He had to save just one of them.
Do you realize, Beloved, YOU are so precious to God that He sent the Good Shepherd just to save YOU? He loved YOU so deeply it hurt!
"Jesus said, 'What man of you, having a
hundred sheep, if he loses one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the
wilderness, and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? And when he
has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. I say to you that likewise
there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over
ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.' "
Luke 15:4, 5, & 7, NKJV