shepherd and sheep in a field
Autism / Mental health / The world

Why are the shepherds so important in the Christmas story?

Over the years I’ve written a few blogs about the Christmas period, (check them out here) but I’m not sure I’ve touched on how the Christmas story impacts me personally.

The Christmas Story

Every year, children put on nativity plays and we remember the Christmas story but it might feel as though we can’t learn anything new. This year, in the build up to Christmas I’ve heard “The Greatest Story Ever Told” with fresh ears and it’s touched me in a new way.

Previously I’ve listened to The Christmas Story from a general Christian angle:

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him”

1 John 4:9— more information can be found at Bible Hub

This year, it was the shepherds involvement that really spoke to me.

Who are the shepherds?

Back view of shepherd and sheep

During the time of the Patriarchs, shepherding was a noble occupation. However, the Egyptians were agriculturalists, they considered sheep only for food and sacrifice. Jacob’s descendants became accustomed to a settled lifestyle and forgot their nomadic roots. Shepherding ceased to hold its prominent position and became a menial vocation for the labouring class.

In Christ’s day, shepherds were considered untrustworthy and despised.

But God decided to announce the birth of his son on earth, first, to the shepherds:

“And there were shepherds residing in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks by night. Just then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them…”

Luke 2: 8-9—more information can be found at Bible Hub

God handpicked lowly, unpretentious shepherds to first hear the joyous news. From the moment of Jesus birth he was here to save the commoner, not the self-righteous.

Jesus has turned upside down any previous understanding of shepherds; Jesus described himself as “The Good Shepherd” clarifying with “A good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep”. The experience of sacrifice could be understood by using the analogue of the shepherd as they value the lives of their sheep.

Members of the disabled community often feel marginalised; on too many occasions I’ve experienced feeling like a second class citizen. But just as the Good News of Jesus’ birth was for the shepherds, it is for all of us. Ableism means I don’t have equal access to places other people take for granted; God is giving us equal access to His grace and eternal life.

What else is in the bible about marginalised people?

As an autistic woman, there are numerous bible stories that speak directly to me. For one, it’s believed Samson (known for his relationship with Delilah in The Book of Judges) could have had autism. But even aside from direct links, I feel the bible speaks to me whenever marginalised people are mentioned:

  • Jesus speaks directly to women even though, in first-century Palestine, it was unusual for men outside the family to address a woman in any way. Specific references include: He sat with a woman at the well (John 4:16), He interacted with Mary when she poured perfume on His feet (John 12:3), and He healed the woman with a bleeding disorder (Mark 5:25).
  • Due to misunderstanding about the origins of the disease, people with leprosy were among the most stigmatised people in Jesus’ day but in this story (Matthew 8:2-3) He touched a man with leprosy.
  • Jesus was born a Jew. Jews and Samaritans had a long history of mutual distain but Jesus actively spoke about and interacted with Samaritans. When Jesus was asked about who we should consider our neighbours (and love them as ourselves) Jesus answered with the story of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

Just by being part of the disabled community, I am on the margins of society. We are a frequently forgotten group, can feel like an inconvenience and have to “fight” for our rights.

The bible teaches us, loving/accepting/including the marginalised isn’t an optional extra, it should be at the heart of who we are.

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