A couple weeks back, my five year old donned a shepherd's costume for the church Christmas pageant.
I tied the brightly colored band of fabric around his head to secure his head covering and straightened his little robe.
He was adorable.
And so were all the other little shepherds cavorting with the angels at the front of the church.
But the actual shepherds, not so much.
According to historians, most people would have regarded real shepherds with disgust. Not only were they smelly and absolutely filthy from living in the wilderness in close proximity to livestock, but they were also ritually unclean. Their work prevented them from observing the Sabbath, but regardless, they would not have been welcome anywhere near the Temple to worship. The Pharisees, those religious know-it-alls, considered shepherds to be in the same class as tax collectors and prostitutes-sinners due to the nature of their work. Shepherds were stereotyped as liars and thieves and all-around terrible people. In fact, many towns had laws on the books preventing them from crossing into city limits. Their testimony was not admissible in court.*
No one wanted them around.
No one wanted to hear what they had to say.
No one expected anything good to come from them.
And yet, these are the people that the angels deputize to proclaim the good news. The angels weren't too tired to go all the way to Galilee and deliver the message themselves. It was part of the plan to have these degenerates, these low-lifes, these sinners proclaim God's "good news of great joy to all people."
From these unexpected lips comes the surprising news of God's presence on earth.
This is just one of the many, many ways that God will continue to confound us and challenge our expectations. This is just one more way God uses the unexpected ones to tell the people something they need to hear.
Who might be the shepherds today?
Who do we find repulsive?
Who have we stereotyped?
Who do we push away or ignore?
Maybe it is the homeless man standing on the freeway on-ramp with a spray bottle and squeegee...
The undocumented workers bent over in the fields picking strawberries...
The child slaves (yes there are still slaves) in some far away nation picking the cocoa beans that will become the chocolate sold in our nation's stores...
The Wal-mart employee who can only feed her family with government benefits and trips to the local food pantry...
The resettled refugee who, no matter what they did in their past life in another place, is now washing dishes in a Cheesecake Factory...
Consider the shepherds.
Then ask yourself, "what Good News might God be delivering to me, through this messenger?"