It was to shepherds in the hill country around Bethlehem that the message of the Savior’s birth was first delivered. An angel invited them to seek out an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. The shepherds’ role in the Christmas story suggests that these men and women were in an excellent position to understand the angel’s message and to discern the ultimate destiny of the baby they would encounter.
The shepherds who tended their flocks, almost in the shadow of Jerusalem, may have been closely associated with the temple priesthood. In the course of the birthing process, they would take the lambs from their mothers, wash them, and wrap them in protective coverings. Before returning the newborn lambs to their nursing mothers, the shepherds carefully examined them: lambs without scar or blemish would be destined for eventual sacrifice in the temple.
It is from this perspective that the angel’s message would have resonated with their experience. The newborn infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger was the Lamb of God already being prepared for sacrifice. His ultimate destiny would unfold when, after his sacrifice had been accomplished, he would once again be wrapped and laid to rest, awaiting rebirth into Easter glory. As participants in the Christmas Eucharist, we enter into this amazing drama in ways beyond anything the shepherds could ever have imagined.
— Fr. Corbin Eddy
Psalm 96:1–2, 2–3, 11–12, 13
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