Shepherds smelled, well, like sheep. Not the fluffy sheep smell associated with Woolite Original Scent after a gentle clothes line airing out on a spring day.
Nope. The shepherds’ ’sheep smell’ was ripe. Detectable in an open field from 10 feet. There was no bathing. Dental hygiene was a foreign concept. One set of clothes, years old. Layers of sweat and dust, reactivated every day. Shepherds regularly spent weeks with their sheep, moving them from place to place, sometimes walking miles in a day, sleeping among them during the night. They developed a close bond with their flock which was returned by an almost instinctive trust.
They were often excluded from community. They were thought untrustworthy, even to the point of not being allowed to give legal testimony. How could such men be trusted? They chose to live with sheep rather than live with people. Few had families. Unattached. Unstable. And they smelled bad!
The lowest of the low received the shock of Godly attention. Not just attention: extravagance! One angelic visitation is one more visitation than billions and billions of people will ever receive. That was stunning enough! To have the heavens filled with “a multitude of the heavenly hosts” is undiluted extravagance! Initially, their reaction was one of “great fear.”
Think, prior to this instant, of the small events which may have passed for ‘joy’ in the life of the lowly shepherd. Fighting off a wolf. A patch of fresh grass. A trickle of water. A lamb born without incident and a ewe capable to suckle. The shepherd’s life was defined at the boundaries by the smallest joys.
But not on that night. They were a bewildered audience to a heavenly performance. Recipients of staggering, salvific tidings, for themselves and “for all people.” And … a baby in a manger? A manger?
On that night great fear was vacated by joyful praise! They were joyful to find the baby in the manger! They bore “good news of great joy”! Joyful to, for once in their life, be on the inside of God’s Work in the world! The angels came to them! They were smelly shepherds; always the overlooked ones. But not on that night.
They were first in line.