The Reward of Lowliness

Most people wouldn’t have set foot near a manger in first-century Palestine. There was too much for them to lose. This was where the animals were kept, and just a step above them were those who took care of the animals, like the shepherds. Truth be told, perhaps there were some who may have ventured near the sheep if they had to, but the shepherds were always to be kept at arm’s length. They were the detestable ones, well earned in the eyes of the people.

In the time of Jesus' birth, shepherds were labeled incompetent and untrustworthy. They had a reputation as thieves who would help themselves to whatever they found as they wandered about from field to field. In addition, long seasons of being away from home led to other vices as they passed by towns and villages with their flocks. They were regarded as unclean, especially by the religious leaders of the day. As a result, they were limited or prohibited from public worship, and others would be limited, too, if they associated with such a contaminated group of outcasts. The shepherds were more despised than the sheep!

There was nothing to be gained by associating oneself with such a lowly group and much to be lost in the eyes of the people. The status measures of the day—education, possessions, and religiosity—were nowhere to be found amongst these men, so they were lumped in with the prostitutes and tax-collectors. Drawing near to this smelly group would risk acquiring the odor yourself - be seen with them and risk your own reputation.

But the angels went to the shepherds with the Good News of great joy. The Savior of the world would be born in a manger. Whatever gap existed in the social order of the day between the important people and the shepherds was nothing compared to the gap between sinful man and the glorious God. The stoop from heavenly glory to a manger was infinite and thought absurd in a world tirelessly attempting to build up one’s own glory.

Why would a king stoop so low?

Jesus stooped low because that’s where we were.

Oh, how quickly we try to build ourselves up and meet Him halfway to take His glory! Yet, when we build ourselves up in the eyes of man, we fall further from Him.

Perhaps the shepherds had grown tired of reputation building and resigned to the fact that they would always be lowly. Then they saw the heavenly glory and immediately understood the cosmic gap between themselves and a Holy God: true lowliness. Yet they were told to not fear.

He had come down to reach them where they were. Everyone else stood at arm’s length, but Jesus drew near.

The shepherds had no problem going to the manger. They were used to the mess and the stable smells. Their reputation was already in ruins, so there was nothing to lose but everything to gain. All their lives they had been shunned in public worship; now they were invited to worship the King face to face in the lowly place. They would not gain any earthly riches to help them move up the social ladder, but they were given Light, and the lowly were exalted.

There is great reward in being lowly.
"God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” 1 Cor. 1:28–29