Our vision of the Nativity assumes that the shepherds were the first to see Jesus. Like the ideas that Jesus was born in a stable/shed or that Joseph acted as a midwife (midhusband?), this, too, is probably not correct. All Luke tells us is that an angel appeared to shepherds who were watching their flocks at night and said to them that “today” the Messiah was born. It’s entirely plausible that Jesus was born during the day and that many of the villagers had already come to see the baby. There is no sound reason to assume that the angels appeared at the exact moment of birth.
But why shepherds? Leaving aside all the theological considerations, shepherds weren’t the scruffy, marginal outcasts that we tend to think of when we hear the word. Remember that Abraham, Moses, and even King David were shepherds. In first-century Israel, shepherding wasn’t a despised occupation. It played an essential, important role in society. Shepherds had to be physically fit and mentally alert in order to defend their flocks. To go a bit further, it’s not inconceivable that a studly young shepherd was considered one of the cool dudes by the young women in the area!
Additionally, the Scriptures are full of references to God as a shepherd and Jesus as the Good Shepherd. If shepherds were not respected members of society, calling God and Jesus “shepherds” would be highly insulting.
So. what does this have to do with Joseph? The accounts of Jesus’s birth are very Mary-centric, so having shepherds visit gives us a hint that Jesus didn’t come just for women, but also for ordinary, working-class men like Joseph . . . and shepherds. Besides, Joseph needed some guys to do the first-century equivalent of smoking a cigar to honor the birth of a son! After all, even if Jesus was conceived by the Holy Spirit, he was still going to be Joseph’s beloved baby boy.
Be in good spirits under the fatherly mantle of Saint Joseph, a place of safest refuge in trials and tribulations. –Saint Joseph Marello
Dear Saint Joseph, help me see beyond stereotypes to the real people who are part of the story of salvation. Amen.
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