When I asked my wife to marry me, I did so at a park not far from where we live now. She had no idea it was coming…especially since the conversation started with how I was in financial straits because of a car wreck a few weeks earlier. She was understanding and understandably disappointed. She wanted me to ask her in that very place.
So, when I asked her to be my wife, she was so excited she shouted out across the water, “I just got engaged!” Another couple across the lake from us shouted back, “Congratulations!”
I’m about to tell you something very weird – I think about that couple all the time. Well, not every second. But fairly often. I never think about us telling our parents or anyone else. And really, we had to tell the story over and over and over. But that unknown couple who has no significance outside of that memorable event, I think about their unlikely sharing of our joy a lot. They are part of it. They were the first to hear.
The Bible never tells us why the birth of Jesus was announced first to the shepherds. And I have no idea why God sent angels to to them and did so before anyone else. No one really knows. I hope you have always been skeptical when some pastor says, “God sent angels to the shepherds first because…” If the Bible does not tell us, we are only left to guess and wonder why such unlikely men were chosen.
It does fit a pattern though. Mary and Joseph were pretty unlikely because of where they from and the Mary being a virgin thing makes her pretty unlikely. There is a lot of this “unlikely” going on. David was the unlikely king, young and forgotten among warrior brothers. Moses growing up in Egyptian palaces only to virtually ransack them later. And of course there is Joseph, the braggart turned savior. Who would’ve thunk? This is pretty normal behavior for God.
What I do know is that when I think about that couple across the lake, I do not think about them so much as the event itself…the announcement. It was the announcement that made them memorable. My wife and I do not discuss their ‘congrats’ because they were so great but because the announcement was so great. They were the first to respond to the announcement and their unknown identities and shadowed shapes in the dark add to the significance of that night I cannot explain. Maybe they are part of the dark velvet on which the glow of a diamond ring shines.
Maybe the same is true of the shepherds – those unlikely first recipients of that good news. We miss something if we celebrate them. They were not told so that we would know that God loves the lowly. This is true, of course. But maybe he chose the lowly shepherds because he wanted the vent to shine brightly like a star in the night sky above the fields of flocks they tended. Maybe he chose the unlikely to show his glory clearly in a way that announcing to kings could never have done. The Shepherds don’t make the announcement of Jesus’ birth any more wondrous than it would have been otherwise but it does add to the drama…maybe it helps us see the glory better.
This should encourage all who want to be used for God’s glory but look in the mirror and say, “unlikely.” God trades in wares which are the opposite of likelihood. He does not only take circumstances and do the impossible but he also takes unlikely people such as shepherds and makes them part of events, cataclysmic occurrences and glory-filled announcements.