And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
Divine revelation will come to you today through unexpected avenues you’ve probably ignored.
You may not know it, but a debate has been going on the last few years about how we’re supposed to think about shepherds. The shepherd is an occupation found throughout the Bible. Many patriarchs of the Old Testament were shepherds at one time or another. The psalmist refers to the Lord as a shepherd (see Psalm 23). Even the prophets refer to the coming Messiah as a shepherd. So being a shepherd is good, right?
But in Jesus’ day, the shepherd had moved from hero to zero. If you were a shepherd, you were not the owner of the flock but the hired hand charged with taking care of the flock. Recent scholarship suggests that the opinion of shepherds in Jesus’ day was that they were dishonest and thieving. Shepherding in a desert region required them to move around the land to find food and water, thus entailing their absence for long periods of time. Therefore, many claims were made against shepherds of pilfering other people’s properties for resources, dealing in stolen sheep to grow flocks, and being religiously unclean for dealing with animals and breaking Sabbath law.
All that to say, shepherding was not the dream job of first-century Jewish children. In fact, most Jewish boys at that time began learning the Torah at a young age in the hope that they would become some kind of religious teacher when they got older. It was a hard road, and few made it. If you couldn’t cut it in religious studies, you would learn a trade of a family member and do that for the rest of your life. Like a fisherman or a carpenter. Either it was your lot in life or you were unsuccessful at a lot of things in order to become a shepherd.
Yet it was shepherds to whom the angels were sent to announce the birth of Immanuel. Why? Because in true YHWH form, the Giver constantly uses the people we ignore to reveal the Giver’s ways.
Sometimes it is through professional ministers, artists, authors, sages, monks, and gurus that we hear a divine invitation. If they’re phonies, we’ll know it, but mostly these women and men are fellow humans who have lived, learned, processed, and translated their experiences into a palpable wisdom that can be shared. We’ve heard their witness, and it rang true . . . so we buy their books, attend their conferences, and go to their concerts, hungry for the revelation they have to share. I’m not discrediting the avenues in which we expect to hear a divine revelation. Those individuals have done the secret personal work to bring forth a gift for the rest of us, and they deserve the attention they get.
But there’s a deeper revelation that Jesus speaks to in all of the ignored and hidden aspects of the life we find ourselves in. Rest from anxiety is woven into the makeup of a lily. Providential supply is revealed in the eating habits of birds. And the Almighty Itself is waiting to be found hidden in someone described as the “least of these”—a neighborhood kid who spends too much time at your house or an unemployed dad waiting in a welfare line or maybe even the elderly Staples employee you mechanically interact with while replenishing your supply of ballpoint pens and computer paper.
See, God is bad at PR—on purpose—because the Divine has no interest in ending up on TV, being big on Instagram, having Its own line of cookware at Target. That’s too obvious. That’s what we do with revelation. I understand that the honorable intent whenever we hear something life-changing is to want to share that with as many people as possible so they can hear it too. To get the most eyes on it, we make it big, loud, shiny, and shareable in hopes of going viral on social media and making a lot of lives better. But let’s be honest. We also try to figure out if we can monetize it. We’re always trying to make a profit off anything true, especially God.
Why God’s revelations usually don’t come through big flashy avenues is (1) God doesn’t need any money via merchandise at retail stores, and (2) bigness doesn’t ask the viewer/listener to have to transform to receive it . . . and God is all about the transformation.
The Giver of life hides revelation in the things we ignore because it is the work of humbling ourselves and asking to have eyes to see and ears to hear that truly transforms our hearts. It’s in the unknowing of how things work—social norms, hierarchy of power, systemic injustice, gender inequality, race supremacy, physical and mental ableism, modes of intelligence, ageism—that we get a peek at love working its transforming will underneath the glitz and glamour of everything we produce.
A transformation was required for the townspeople to hear the proclamation of divine birth coming from the mouths of failed religion school shepherds. A transformation was required for the shepherds to believe they had been invited to be preachers of divine birth to their familiar neighbors. It was all very . . . unexpected.
So it is with you as well, that divine proclamation will come through very unexpected ways. It very well may be through the ignored and marginalized aspects of your life—the embarrassing, unsuccessful parts—that, if you take the time to listen, you’ll begin to hear the angelic proclamation: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today . . . a Savior has been born to you” (2 Luke 2:10–11).
Excerpted from Honest Advent: Awakening to the Wonder of God-with-Us Then, Here, and Now by Scott Erickson. Copyright ©2020 by Scott Erickson. Published by Zondervan. Used by Permission.