In the Birth Narratives (Luke 1, 2 and Matthew 1, 2) there are kings and rulers: Caesar, Herod, Quirinius, Archelaus, the ruler of Micah 5:2 (Mt 2:6), David (Lk 1:26-32), the Proud (Lk 1:51). The child is called “a Savior, who is Christ (Messiah) the Lord…” (Lk 2:11).
So why Shepherds?
First, because they are commonplace. It was once said of Harry Truman, that if someone had thrown a rock into a crowd, they would have hit someone like Truman. That is he was very ordinary and very American. So the shepherds were very ordinary and very ancient middle eastern. If you tossed a rock into the hills, maybe even today, you might hit one.
Second, because the child-king is different from other kings. He was born to no wealth, no privilege and no great family name. He had nothing to make him stand out (except for all those angelic and prophetic announcements).
Third, there have been a lot of Shepherd-leaders in Israel.
- Abraham was a keeper of flocks – we see that when his hired hands got into conflict with Lot’s so they parted ways – Lot to the plains and Abraham to the hills. (Genesis 13) He gains additional wealth, measured by flocks after his adventures with Abimelech (Genesis 20).
- Moses was watching sheep and goats in Midian, the middle of nowhere, when God called him to be the shepherd of the hebrew people and lead them out of Egypt. One professor I had in Seminary suggested that the language of Psalm 23 suggests the story of the Exodus.
- David was out watching sheep when Samuel came along to anoint him to be King.
Jesus himself talks about the importance of spiritual shepherds in John 10. And to this day “pastor” means shepherd. The church is supposed to have servant-leaders who know their people by name, who feed them (the word of God) and bring them to quiet waters, and guard them against all enemies.
So, it turns out Shepherds are a good choice.