even more rejected than today. They tended to be viewed as thieves, since they couldn't always account to the owners for what had happened to some of their flock, and although one can always blame predators, it's easy to suspect the care-givers too.
Yet, King David had been a shepherd, and the idea of a royal Shepherd was part of Israel's background: Moses was called a shepherd, Isa. 63:11, and the Lord was compared to a shepherd in Isa. 40:11, Jer. 31:10 and Ezek. 34:11-12. The king to come was named as David, who would shepherd Israel again: Ezek. 34:23 and 37:24. But of course, that respect was for kings and for God, which still left your average shepherd in the lurch.
But suddenly one night, angels appeared to shepherds in a field (whether they hiding from the tax collectors, or running their flocks on someone's land under cover of darkness, we don't know). "Don't be afraid" was the first thing the angel said, of course. (Good thing, because then all the other angels appeared, and who knows what would have happened?) The angels announced the great news of the Messiah's birth, but notice again, this announcement was not in the king's palace or the temple or to the other religious authorities, but to (smelly) shepherds. Really? Why? Because so much of Luke's gospel (this is in Luke 2) is about the reversal of what most people expect, as we saw in Luke 1:52-53. And let's not forget, we tend to look at many things -- most things? everything? -- differently than the Lord. Our ways of considering who is great and who is not, need to be adjusted, and this is one way of stating that need, right at the beginning of Jesus' life.
Shepherds got to be the first non-family members to receive the good news of Jesus' birth, because God doesn't measure greatness the way we do (see 1 Sam. 16:7); and because the good news was for "good news of great joy that will be for all the people" (Luke 2:10).
So, the next time you see a shepherd -- hold on, that doesn't happen much in society these days -- the next time you see a homeless person, or anyone that you feel is 'less than' you, it would be good to remember those shepherds, and thank God that he sees all of us as his beloved kids. And if you feel less than important, don’t forget that Jesus came for all of us, and that he doesn’t measure you in the same way others do either. He loves you, gave his life for you, and is looking forward to when he gets to greet you in person!