“Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!’ (Luke 2:8-15)
I once led a Christmas service in a village in rural Ireland and explained in detail the significance of God’s coming to the shepherds with “a multitude of the heavenly host praising.” The shepherds, I explained, were outsiders, prohibited from temple worship, considered unclean and categorised as somewhat stupid… I trailed off, looking at a sea of frozen faces (and my wife making those finger-across-the-throat motions).
It turned out that every single person in the hall was connected with sheep-farming.
I felt, to coin a phrase, sheepish.
But still, it’s true. God chose –and chooses- the foolish things to confound the wise.
And God sent a song to the lowly shepherds that has never since been silenced:
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!”