In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered. Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth, and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Luke’s is my favorite story of Jesus’s birth. (I guess not a hard contest, since there are only two.) While chapter 1 emphasized God fulfilling His promise to Israel, this story focuses on the humanness of that fulfillment. No doubt one would expect the Messiah to be born to great riches in a beautiful palace, surrounded by the best of everything. But instead He was born in a stable because there was no room in the inn. And you might expect the Messiah to be revealed to great men, Kings, or high priests. In fact, in Matthew’s story, He is revealed to great men. But in Luke’s story, Jesus’s identity is revealed first to lowly shepherds. The shepherds see the host of angels and hear their celebration, not the Chief Priests and Pharisees.
There were many ways that Jesus was different from the Messiah the Jews were expecting. His humble origins and life were one, but the fact that He was a Savior for all mankind was a huge surprise. He wasn’t a Savior for the most “righteous” and religious Jews. He was a Savior for the poor, lonely shepherds. He can to save everyone, especially those that society shunned.
But Luke does not fail to emphasize that Jesus comes from the house of David. That is a very important expectation that God fulfilled (almost) exactly the way people expected Him too. But considering that Jesus came from the house of David, in retrospect it shouldn’t be any surprise that the angels appeared to shepherds. Who better to give glory to David’s heir than one of David’s own?