The Infancy Narratives in the gospels of Mathew and Luke are filled with rich symbolism. The Evangelists were Christians of the first century whose lives were dramatically changed after the death and resurrection of Jesus. It was their deep faith in Jesus and their concrete experience of the Christian community that informed the theology that permeates the Christmas story.
Remember when Jesus said “the last will be first?” He might have been talking about people like the Shepherds in Luke’s infancy narrative. They were not the most highly respected folks in society. But they were at the top of Luke’s Christmas guest list. So, why did God send a choir of angels to announce the birth of Jesus to the shepherds? What made them so special?
Luke’s Gospel turns everything upside down: All the sinners, prostitutes, homeless and poor, have a privileged place in the story of Jesus. The Shepherds were roaming beatniks, trespassing on other people’s land with their sheep; social outcasts viewed with suspicion and contempt. But not by God. To God their marginalization made them VIPs to the most important birthday in history.
The Shepherds in Luke’s Christmas story don’t make it warm and cuddly. They make it revolutionary. The Kingdom of God is the reverse of the societies we construct: the poor, the marginalized, the people without any power or privilege, like the shepherds, are closest to God. The only way we can be close to God at Christmas, according to Luke, is to be close to people like the Shepherds.
“One will never understand the infancy narratives without first being convinced that all Gospel material has been colored by the faith and experience of the church of the first century.”
Fr. Raymond Brown, SS, "An Adult Christ at Christmas"