“And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, 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 Savior 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 favor 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.’
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them.” – Luke 2:8-18
“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.‘
When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Messiah was to be born. ‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written:
‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will shepherd my people Israel.’
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’
After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.” – Matthew 2:1-12
From the very beginning it is clear that Jesus came to be the savior and Lord of people from “from every nation, tribe, people and language” (Revelation 7:9) as well as every social class. The contrast between the shepherds and wise men who are each some of the first to come and worship Jesus illustrates this beautifully.
“…shepherds were the least likely persons to receive such a glorious announcement. Shepherds, especially those charged with the night watch, were among the most socially undesirable classes. They were considered disreputable and unclean” (Zuber, The Moody Bible Commentary, 1559). God could have sent His angels to announce Jesus’s arrival into the world as savior to anyone. They could have appeared to the chief priest and religious elite, at the king’s palace, or to any number of notable people. Instead, God chose to send this heavenly host to the night watch of the lower rungs of society.
These local shepherds from the outskirts of the small town of Bethlehem are chosen to receive the most spectacular announcement of the birth of the greatest king in all of history.
“…this Messiah will not come, or serve, or engage in His calling in a way that is ‘expected’ by the religious establishment, but He will be recognized by the humble, the outcast, and the socially marginalized” (Zuber, The Moody Bible Commentary, 1559).
We know the Magi are from “the east”, but where exactly is left unsaid. They “were probably wise men specializing in astronomy and astrology.” (Vanlaningham, The Moody Commentary, 1457) They were foreigners from a different country and mostly likely part of the educated elite. The cost of the gifts they were able to give to Jesus–gold, frankincense, and myrrh–along with the cost to take a long round-trip journey indicates that they were probably fairly well off. In the Magi we have an example of people from a different land and the upper class coming from afar to humbly worship Jesus.
The vast majority of wisemen in Israel–Pharisees, Sadducees, and priests–missed that Jesus was the promised Messiah, both at His birth and throughout His ministry. Instead, wisemen from foreign lands, shepherds, and later fishermen, zealots, tax collectors and sinners recognized and worshipped Him.
Nativity scenes often have both the shepherds and wise men present at the same time. While it would seem that the wise men arrived at a later date and this depiction probably isn’t accurate, I think the picture of having both at the scene can help remind us that Jesus came for all people. He is the savior and Lord of both the shepherds and the the Magi.
There is a quote attributed to Billy Graham that says, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.” It would seem the ground is just as level at the manger.