In the fields around Bethlehem, shepherds lived, abiding in the fields keeping watch over their flocks by night. Who were these shepherds, and what kind of sheep were they watching?
First, these weren’t just any sheep, these were sheep being raised for temple sacrifice. This means these men weren’t just ‘any’ shepherds, they were shepherds in charge of sacrificial lambs. No wonder the angels appeared to them first.
The angels said, “This will be a sign to you. You will find the babe, wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.”
Mangers are feeding troughs, of course, and in ancient times they were made of stone with raised sides. Mangers were also used for a secondary purpose. They became a place of protection. That’s why the priests who lived near Bethlehem, known for raising sacrificial lambs, would put lambs in them.
Not all the lambs; just the ones thought to be without blemish, suitable for the blood sacrifices that took place twice a day. Sacrifices to cover sin.
The priests wanted to protect these perfect lambs from bumps and bruises. So, they’d wrap them up tightly. They’d swaddle them, wrapping them in cloths, like precious and terribly fragile bottles of wine.
And lay them in a manger.
“This will be a sign to you,” the angel said to the shepherds. And it was. It wouldn’t have been a sign to many. But to this select group of men? Most definitely. And the implications were staggering.
The long-expected King wasn’t headed to a palace. No, He came into this world, knowing that He would become the ultimate sacrificial lamb, without spot or blemish.
Those shepherds knew where the Messiah was born… but they also knew where He was headed.