“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.” (Luke 2:8).
No one knew but Joseph and Mary, and their closest relatives. To all other observers Mary was a pregnant girl shrouded in scandalous rumor; and Joseph was a rascal. This may account for the added disinterest shown to them when they needed a place in crowded Bethlehem for the Babe to be born.
An Inn Keeper showed them kindness and offered the stable behind his Inn. And there, the Baby was born. No one knew but Joseph and Mary, and their closest relatives, that this Baby was the Messiah; the Savior of the World.
Who would be the first outside the Holy Family to hear the news? It was the lowly shepherds in the fields, keeping watch over their flocks by night.
At first telling this strikes us as somewhat strange — but not any more so than all the other unexpected turns and twists in the story thus far. And then we may deem it rather quaint that humble shepherds would be told first; after all, haven’t we all read, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” Maybe God has a tender place in His heart toward shepherds, and thus decided to let them in on it first.
In reality, there was a very specific and important reason why these particular Shepherds were the first to hear the announcement.
In his book The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Alfred Edersheim explains that these Bethlehem shepherds were distinct from all others in Israel; and their flocks, which they tended so closely at night, were also very special. For you see, these shepherds were a part of the priesthood, and these sheep were specifically set aside to be sacrificial lambs in the Temple services.
The shepherds had the responsibility to make sure that a lamb without spot or blemish be preserved from harm, until it could be brought forth for sacrifice. It was only fitting therefore that the angels would make the news known to them, just when they were minding their own business.
And listen carefully to the words the Angel spoke. “Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.”
In other words, the Spotless Lamb has come. “Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the World!” said John, as he saw Jesus walking by the Jordan some years later.
Seeing these priest shepherds were about to be put out of business once the ultimate Lamb was sacrificed, it was only fitting that they were given notice well in advance!