What the Shepherds of the Nativity Teach Us About God’s Heart for the Poor

Updated: Jul 1


Have you ever held a diamond in your hand up to the sunlight and slowly turned it to see all the different colors shine through? The Nativity of Jesus is like that diamond: by turning it this way and that, we see different layers of meaning that teach us more about Jesus and who He is.


One aspect of the Nativity that I wished got more attention, is the shepherds in the field. Especially when we consider the ministry of Oliver Gospel for the homeless, we can learn a lot from the shepherds about God’s heart for the poor.

JESUS ANNOINTED TO PROCLAIM GOOD NEWS TO THE POOR

At the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry, it was common for Jesus to be found guest preaching (to use modern terminology) at different synagogues in the region of the Galilean countryside. But there’s one particular sermon (if you will) that I want to draw your attention to.


Look at closely what happens at a synagogue in Nazareth, his hometown, as recorded in Luke 4:16-22:

“He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,     because he has anointed me      to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners     and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’
Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’ All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. ‘Isn’t this Joseph’s son?’ they asked."

In this sermon, Jesus is making an incredible statement about His identity and mission. Much could be said about Jesus’ statement that He is “anointed.” But, for today’s purposes, pay close attention to the mission here.


What is Jesus anointed to do?


He is anointed “to proclaim good news (the gospel) to the poor” and more in the verses that follow. There are huge implications for us today in these words, and we find many examples in the Gospels of Jesus demonstrating this truth in his actions.

THE VERY FIRST PEOPLE THE GOOD NEWS IS ANNOUNCED ARE THE LEAST ADMIRED IN THEIR SOCIETY

Keeping in mind Jesus’ sermon, revisit what happens with the shepherds of the Nativity in Luke 2:8-21.

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,     and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.’"

Did you catch that?


In Luke 2:8 we not only learn that these shepherds are working the “graveyard shift” of watching the flock at night, but they are “living in the field.” We often romanticize the life of a shepherd today. I don’t know about you, but I cannot stop seeing an idealized image of King David with his curly hair playing a harp under a beautiful tree with a gentle sleeping lamb nearby. Sounds relaxing!


But the context behind the powerful imagery of shepherds in the Bible is that it could be categorized as a “dirty job” in the Greco-Roman world of Jesus’ day. Not only is it hard, blue-collar work . . . but it is not well-paid or very respected in the society of Jesus’ day. Don’t miss it: these shepherds are living outside the city, in the fields with their animals—maybe even with everything they own. I’ll let you come to your own conclusions from there!

As Jesus says, He is anointed “to bring good news to the poor;” and so the very first people to hear the good news of the birth of the Messiah (the King!) are poor shepherds living outside in the fields. Wow.


And the pattern doesn’t stop there, throughout the Gospels, Jesus proclaims the good news over and over to the most unlikely and unexpected people. It all culminates in the first person to encounter the risen Jesus—it’s not Peter, John, or James, it’s Mary Magdalene.

Let’s get back to the story of the shepherds. What do they do as soon as they hear the good news? It reads in verses 15-20:

“When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger.  When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told."

After hearing the good news, the shepherds rush off to Bethlehem to see the newborn baby. I imagine great excitement, many even a shepherd tripping as they rush off together to meet the newborn King. After meeting Jesus, these shepherds don’t wait long before continuing to announce the good news to others! They remain in a spirit of worship, reflecting on all that God had done and the things they had seen and heard.


There is so much we can learn from the shepherds: immediately responding to the good news with joy, telling others, and worshipping God. It challenges me not only to try to model my own reaction to the good news after their example, but also to look around me for these types of faithful servants of the Lord.


In fact, it’s possible these types of Gospel-centered people are found in the most unlikely of places. Maybe they’re living in the woods off the interstate or found wandering in Finley Park. Wherever they are, don’t miss it! They may have something important to tell you.

Prayer: Lord, in the season of Advent, we celebrate your birth. Your birth reminds us that joy can be found in the most unlikely of places, even a stable of animals and in the company of shepherds. We remember those moments with warmth in our hearts; moments that reveal your heart for humanity. Help us to be more like the shepherds, who upon hearing the good news hurry to worship you and tell others about you. Thank you for bringing light into the world and for proclaiming good news of freedom and forgiveness to us. Amen.


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