Every Christmas pageant in the world has shepherds in it. What would a Christmas play be without shepherds? It would be incomplete that’s what it would be! The Gospel of Luke makes a big deal out of the shepherds coming from the hills of Bethlehem to visit Jesus in the manger. The text of Luke 2 regarding the shepherds begins “And in the same region…” That means Bethlehem! They are not just any ordinary Shepherds. Bethlehem is the major suburb of Jerusalem. It’s the place where David, the little boy, was a shepherd. He was a song writer and poet from his earliest days and he did that in these very same hills. But more importantly, the hills of Bethlehem were occupied by shepherds who were assigned to take care of and watch over the sheep that were being raised for one purpose, and one purpose only. They were the sheep that were to serve as the sacrifices that were offered in the temple. There are several things worth noting about the look passage in this regard.

First, when the angels appeared to them the text says, “the glory of the lord, shone around about them.” That’s a clear reference to the Holy of Holies where the “Glory of the Lord” was believed to reside. These shepherds were raising these sheep to be offered at the Temple as sacrifices to the Glory of the Lord. But, they themselves, were never allowed to enter into God’s presence, that’s why they were “filled with great fear.” The angel tells them not to fear because he has some wonderful news for them of great joy that will be for all the people. They were about to be introduced to the one great sacrificial lamb who would rend the veil separating God from the people. That’s why the angel added the idea that this great joy will be for “all the people.” It’s not just for the religious elite who enter into the presence of God. It was for them too. It’s for me too! It’s for you too!

One more thing; the angel told them that “this would be a sign to you; you will find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” How could that be a sign for shepherds? One of the toughest jobs of the shepherds was to protect the new born sheep. The mortality rate of sheep (and humans) in those days were pretty high. But, even more important, was the fact that when sheep are first born, they struggle and wiggle and strive to stand up and bump into things and very often break legs or cut themselves or hurt themselves in such a way that they are no longer “perfect” as a sacrifice at the Temple. Shepherds worked hard at watching the expectant ewes so they could be there for the delivery. They would receive the baby sheep right from the womb and to insure it would remain acceptable as an offering, they would wrap it up tightly and bind it so it couldn’t hurt itself. You guessed it; they would use “swaddling” clothes. Further, after wrapping the new born sheep, it would be laid in the feeding trough, so that the other sheep would not bother it until it had time to survive the birth experience without damage. The swaddling clothes and lying in a manger would assure the shepherds that this infant was the “perfect” sacrifice that would be offered for the sins of the world.

“I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” Luke 2:10