It was probably just a moment of shyness, modesty, lack of confidence in a new situation, but her words have been in my mind ever since.
‘I am no one.’
Are we ever inclined to think of ourselves like that? I’m nobody, I’m not important, you don’t need to know my name or worry about me. I don’t matter.
Do other people sometimes make us feel like this? By the way they speak to us or take us for granted? Think for a moment of refugees or those trafficked and enslaved in the sex industry. How many people are there in the world today feeling used, abused, wounded, unvalued, unloved?
Christmas is God saying to the world, ‘You are loved. You are more than just important. You matter deeply to me.
That is part of what the angels’ invitation to the shepherds is all about. Now the shepherds are relevant in a number of ways. As so often there is an important link here with what has been before in the Old Testament.
Israel’s most famous and idealised king David had begun as a young shepherd. The prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah had often criticised selfish, corrupt human leaders. They likened God Himself to a gentle, protective shepherd and predicted that He would send another godly leader like David to guide His people.
Yet ironically with this background, by the 1st century shepherds were looked down on in Israel. In the uber-judgemental world of the Pharisees they were considered technically ‘unclean’ and actually barred from entering the Temple. They were considered as ‘no one’ by polite society but not by the Lord. They were the first on the guest list, invited by angelic messengers no less.
Hey guys, come and see your new shepherd. God is fulfilling His promises from generations ago. Come and join the celebration!
Actually the first thing the angel says to the shepherds outside Bethlehem is, ‘Don’t be afraid.’ We are not usually given to see these mighty heavenly warriors and messengers from God but their appearance seems to be on occasions intimidating. As is the ‘glory of the Lord’.
Skeptics sometimes say, ‘If God would show Himself we would believe in him. How can we believe in something we can’t see?
Yet those who are granted a glimpse of God’s glory and holiness in the Bible are absolutely blown away by the experience, really quite terrified and the first words they need to hear are words of reassurance, ‘Don’t be afraid. It’s good news.’
This good news brings with it great joy, greater than all other delights in this life. Best of all it’s for everyone. No one needs to be shut outside. All are welcome.
So we have dazzling glory, we might expect that from a divine being, but here’s the surprise. The Saviour Whom God has sent has been born into His own creation in the most humble of circumstances. Not the palace with a 22 page supplement in Hello magazine, but a stableyard with a manger for His first cradle.
This is somewhere shepherds would feel comfortable and at home, somewhere they wouldn’t be too embarrassed visiting. What a lovely thought, that the world’s Saviour wasn’t too snobby or embarrassed to come down into our place and share our flesh, our heat and cold, our food, our straw, our joy and our suffering, even our death. That those who turn, who trust and follow Him might one day not be ashamed but welcomed into His place, the ‘Father’s house’ of heaven.
This was heaven showing the utmost goodwill to earth and its population, an offer of peace to those who time and again choose to live as enemies of their Maker.
So what would the shepherds do? They accepted the invitation, met their Saviour and returned ‘glorifying and praising God’. I guess that was some of that joy that was promised by the angel!
These shepherds, we don’t even know their names. The Bible names many of its characters, Mary, Joseph, Peter, James and John, but many it doesn’t. We’re not told the names of the Eastern visitors either, even though they were highly educated and apparently wealthy, possibly even aristocratic or of royal blood.
Does this mean they were ‘no ones’? I don’t think so.
Does it not rather mean that everyone is a ‘someone’ to our Father in heaven? Every shepherd, every magi, every anonymous face in the crowd, every lonely statistic in the queue, known unto God and precious to Him. So much so He gave His own Son that we all might become His beloved children.
Many of our problems as human beings arise from being too simplistic, too one-dimensional. People either get conceited, imagining they are perfect and above criticism, or they get depressed thinking they are hopeless failures beyond redemption.
The Bible teaches we are all seriously flawed but also incredibly precious to God Who wants to help us so He sent us His Son Jesus, the King of Kings laid in a manger. Welcome Him in your heart and life today and savour the joy that knowing Him brings.
And by the way, my new work colleague?
Her name is Gretta. She is not ‘no one’ but ‘someone’. We all are.
So says Almighty God in the stable in Bethlehem.