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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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Gritty Wonder | The Shepherds

And there were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.’

Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’

When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.’

Luke 2:8–15



Apart from Jesus (naturally), the shepherds are my favourite characters in the entire Bible.

And no, not just because I always seemed to be cast as one of them in school nativities (was it too much to ask to be Mary, just one time?!)

It’s because they show us so much about who God is and how he does things.

Let’s take a quick stroll down 1st-Century Lane for a moment…

Although many of the Jewish patriarchs were shepherds, and God is even likened to a shepherd from time to time, it has been regularly noted that shepherds around the time of Jesus’ birth were truly on the margins of society. It’s been suggested that they were often away from society for long stretches of time tending to sheep that were almost certainly not owned by them. If this was the case, it was one of the lowest-paid professions with some of the most undesirable social connotations.

And, it seems, that made them the perfect audience.

God sent history’s most extravagant light show to the people the world ignored. He wanted the particularly marginalised, the continually overlooked, the chronically underestimated to be the first people to hear what had happened.

The shepherds remind me that because of Christmas, and the God who thought it up, the notion that someone can be ‘unseen’ is a total myth.

Their night shift changed history, and they wanted people to know it. We’re told that they ‘spread the word concerning what had been told to them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them’ (Luke 2:17–18).

Not that I’ve been here a huge amount of time, but I’m not sure I’ve ever known a world that needs to know what the shepherds saw that night, and what it means, more than ours right now. There are people in your office, in your classroom, stepping foot into your coffee shop, hopping onto your bus, who need Christmas. And maybe, just maybe, that’s why they’ve found themselves there.

Christmas happened, and it’s still happening. It changed lives, and it’s still changing lives. He came, and he’s still here.

Why don’t we find a way to tell someone so? To introduce them to their God-With-Them? To show them that the gritty wonder of the Christmas story is everything they need to hear?

Belle Tindall
Belle works as a reporter at the Centre for Cultural Witness

Who would be the equivalent of the ‘shepherds’ in our society today? Which people groups tend to be ignored, overlooked, marginalised? How can we make sure that they have a front row seat to the real wonder of Christmas? Join the conversation in the comments below.

Word for the Week and Connecting with Culture are taking a Christmas break next week – back as usual on 30 December and 2 January!


  1. After talking to a young person seeking asylum here in the UK, about their experience. They are hoping for good news, but don’t feel welcomed.

    By Graham Christopher  -  19 Dec 2022
  2. Thank you Belle for this message about shepherds that shows us who God is and how he does things: “God sent history’s most extravagant light show to the people the world ignored”.

    And thank you for the challenge.

    By Debbie Clark  -  19 Dec 2022
  3. People affected by disability are some of the most ignored, overlooked and marginalised in the world, but are equally made in God’s image and have much to offer. Christian disability ministry ‘Through the Roof’ provides free resources for the Church and Christian community to ensure all are welcome to the party.

    By Tim Wood  -  19 Dec 2022
  4. Dear Belle You say ‘it has been regularly noted that shepherds around the time of Jesus’ birth were truly on the margins of society.’
    Certainly this has been increasingly commented, but I would appreciate where are your sources. There are some comments in the Talmud but this was not completed until well after the birth of Jesus. What other sources nearer the birth of Jesus are there? In their new situation in the diaspora the keeping of large flocks would not have been relevant or possible, and most shepherds would have become unemplyed and, because of their past gifts and lifesyle, largely unemployable. But that does not relate to the shepherds at the time of Jesus incarnation. In the time of temple there would have beenthe need of a large and immaculately perfect sheep, especially from the Bethlehem flocks. I would suggest, unless reliable sources contradict this, the shepherds would have been regarded as highly skilled and reliable men. The fact that is was noted that there were some who were baddies suggests that most were good men, who could be used as ‘pictures’ of God as the Shepherd of Israel.
    In recent times it has been increasingly common to use the shepherds as representing the outcasts of society coming to recognise who Jesus really was, but unless this can be well authenticated is it good exegesis.

    By John Fieldsend  -  19 Dec 2022

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