Shepherd Imagery

The Symbolism of Shepherds in Nativity Scenes: Shepherd Imagery A Deeper Look

Nativity scenes, a traditional staple during the Christmas season, provide a visual narrative that encapsulates the profound mystery and meaning of Christmas. These scenes, often placed in homes, churches, and public spaces, depict the birth of Jesus Christ. Among the various figures present – Mary, Joseph, the Wise Men, and the angels – one crucial element that is often overlooked is the humble shepherd. This article aims to delve into the depth and significance of the shepherd imagery in nativity scenes.

Shepherds as Symbolic Figures

As we delve into the rich tapestry of the nativity scene, our attention is drawn to a group often overlooked – the shepherds. These humble figures, often seen on the periphery of nativity displays, hold a significant place in the story of Jesus’ birth. In this section, we will explore the symbolic weight that these shepherds carry within the biblical narrative. From their social status to their response to the divine announcement, every aspect of their presence in the nativity scene holds profound meaning. Their inclusion in this divine event serves to emphasize the universal reach of God’s love and grace, extending beyond societal hierarchies and norms.

Social Status and Symbolism

In the biblical era, shepherds were considered socially inferior. Their work was physically demanding, and they were often marginalized due to their inability to observe religious rituals, as their duties kept them in the fields day and night. Yet, it’s the shepherds who are chosen to receive the divine announcement of Jesus’ birth, a privilege not granted to kings or religious leaders. This choice is a powerful symbol of God’s favor extending to all classes of society, even the humble and often overlooked.

Divine Irony and Reversal

The choice of shepherds as the first recipients of the news of Christ’s birth can be seen as a divine irony. In a society that valued religious purity and social hierarchy, shepherds were far from being esteemed. However, by choosing shepherds as His messengers, God subverted societal expectations and norms, a theme consistent throughout the Gospel. This divine reversal underscores the transformative message of Christ’s coming – salvation is available to all, regardless of social standing or religious observance.

Representing Humanity

The shepherds, in their humility and simplicity, represent humanity. They symbolize the common people who may seem insignificant in the world’s eyes but are cherished by God. The shepherds’ inclusion in the nativity scene emphasizes that the message of Christ’s birth is universal, reaching out to all corners of society. The shepherds remind us that in God’s eyes, everyone is valuable and worthy of His love and grace.

Response to the Divine Announcement

The shepherds’ reaction to the angelic announcement also carries symbolic weight. Despite their initial fear, they decide to journey to Bethlehem, demonstrating faith and trust in God’s word. Their immediate response serves as an example of how one should respond to God’s call – with prompt obedience and unwavering faith. This aspect of the shepherd’s role in the nativity story serves as a model for believers, emphasizing the importance of faith and immediate response to God’s calling.

The Role of Shepherds in the Nativity Story

In the hallowed narrative of the nativity, amidst the celestial choir of angels and the guiding star, we find a group of humble figures who play a crucial part in this divine tableau – the shepherds. These unsung heroes of the Christmas story were the first to bear witness to the birth of Jesus, marking a significant turning point in history. In this section, we will delve into the multifaceted role of the shepherds in the nativity story, exploring their symbolic representation, their immediate response to the divine message, and the profound implications of their inclusion in this holy event12.

Social Status and Symbolism

Shepherds, in biblical times, were often associated with social poverty and sinfulness1. Their work was physically demanding, keeping them on the fringes of society, away from the religious and societal norms of the time. Yet, it was these individuals, representative of humanity’s imperfections and struggles, who were chosen to receive the divine announcement of Jesus’ birth1. This choice highlights God’s favor extending beyond societal hierarchies and norms, emphasizing His unconditional love for all of humanity3.

Divine Announcement and Response

The shepherds were not just passive recipients of the divine message; their response to the angelic announcement was equally significant. They ventured forth to Bethlehem, guided by faith and curiosity, embodying immediate and unwavering obedience to God’s call1. Their journey symbolizes humanity’s search for salvation, a pilgrimage guided by divine revelation that leads to the discovery of the Savior1.

Symbolic Connection to Jesus

The role of the shepherds also resonates profoundly with Jesus’ later ministry as the “Good Shepherd4. Just as the shepherds tend to their flocks, protecting them from harm and providing for their needs, Jesus cares for humanity, guiding us in truth, and laying down His life for our salvation4. This connection deepens their significance in the nativity story, foreshadowing the compassionate and selfless love that Jesus would demonstrate throughout His earthly ministry4.

Theological Implications

The presence of shepherds at Jesus’ birth carries profound theological implications. It serves as a powerful testament to God’s inclusive love, breaking through societal barriers to reach out to the “nobodies” of society5. God’s decision to reveal His incarnate presence to the humble shepherds signals a new era where God’s favor is not earned by status but bestowed by grace5.

As we retrace the shepherds’ steps through the fields of Bethlehem, we uncover a narrative imbued with divine love, grace, and inclusivity. The shepherds, in their simplicity and humility, serve as a poignant reminder of God’s unconditional love for humanity, inviting us to respond with the same faith and obedience they demonstrated on that holy night1254.



  1. Crosswalk 2 3 4 5 6
  2. Pureflix 2
  3. Celebrating Holidays
  4. Artza Box 2 3 4
  5. Pursue God 2 3

The Shepherd as a Biblical Metaphor

Diving into the depths of biblical literature reveals an array of metaphors, each carrying profound spiritual significance. Among these, the metaphor of the shepherd stands out for its recurring presence and its multifaceted symbolism. The shepherd metaphor paints vivid pictures of guidance, protection, provision, and sacrifice, offering rich insights into the nature of God and His relationship with humanity. In this section, we will explore the layers of meaning behind the shepherd as a biblical metaphor, tracing its presence from the Old Testament to the New Testament.

The Shepherd in the Old Testament

In the Old Testament, the shepherd metaphor is frequently used to describe the relationship between God and His people. God is portrayed as a shepherd who leads His flock with care and compassion. For instance, Psalm 23, one of the most well-known psalms, begins with “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want,” highlighting God’s role as a provider and protector1.

The Shepherd as a Leader

The shepherd metaphor also extends to human leadership within the Bible. Leaders, particularly kings and religious leaders, are often referred to as shepherds. They are expected to guide and care for their ‘flock’ in a manner that reflects God’s own shepherding of His people. Unfortunately, the Bible also recounts instances of ‘bad shepherds’ – leaders who failed their people through poor or selfish leadership, further emphasizing the expectations placed on a ‘good’ shepherd2.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd

In the New Testament, Jesus takes on the role of the ‘Good Shepherd’. In John 10:11, Jesus states, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” This statement not only emphasizes Jesus’ love and care for humanity but also foreshadows his ultimate sacrifice on the cross3.

Modern Implications of the Shepherd Metaphor

The shepherd metaphor continues to hold relevance in modern Christian thought. It serves as a model for pastoral care and leadership within the church, encouraging leaders to guide their congregations with the same compassion, wisdom, and dedication that a shepherd shows to their flock. It also offers comfort and assurance to believers, reminding them of God’s constant care and guidance4.

As we explore the shepherd metaphor, we uncover a wealth of spiritual insight. It serves as a powerful tool for understanding God’s character, His relationship with us, and the responsibilities and expectations of leadership within the faith community.



  1. GotQuestions – Psalm 23
  2. – Shepherds in the Ancient Near East
  3. GotQuestions – Jesus the Good Shepherd
  4. Christianity Today – Pastoral Leadership

Visual Elements in the Nativity Scene

The Nativity scene, a distinct and cherished symbol of the Christmas season, is a vivid depiction of the birth of Jesus Christ. This tableau, often arranged with miniature figures in homes, churches, and public spaces, serves both as a reminder of the humble origins of Jesus and a visual representation of the biblical account of His birth12.

From the Holy Family to the Star of Bethlehem, each element within the Nativity scene carries its own symbolism and significance. Let’s delve into the fascinating details of these visual elements, exploring their origins, meanings, and the profound messages they convey.

The Holy Family

At the heart of every Nativity scene are figures representing the Holy Family: Mary, Joseph, and the infant Jesus. Their depiction varies across cultures and artistic styles, but the central theme remains constant—the miracle of God’s incarnation in a humble setting34. The baby Jesus, usually depicted in a manger, symbolizes God’s humility and love for humanity.

The Shepherds and Wise Men

The shepherds and wise men, or the Magi, represent different sections of society. The shepherds, often seen with their flock, symbolize the humble and the poor, while the wise men, usually bearing gifts, represent the educated and wealthy. Their presence underscores the universal significance of Jesus’s birth56.

The Star of Bethlehem

The Star of Bethlehem, often positioned above the stable, serves as a celestial sign of divine birth. It symbolizes guidance, leading the shepherds and wise men to the birthplace of Jesus78.

Animals in the Nativity Scene

The inclusion of animals in the Nativity scene varies widely. Commonly, an ox and a donkey are present, representing the Jewish and pagan populations respectively. They also emphasize the humble circumstances of Jesus’s birth, in a place where animals were sheltered910.


Angels are divine messengers in the biblical narrative. In the Nativity scene, they often appear to announce Jesus’s birth to the shepherds, symbolizing the heavenly joy and glory associated with the event1112.

The Nativity scene, with its rich array of visual elements, serves as a tangible reminder of the Christmas story. Each figure and symbol tells a piece of the story, inviting us to reflect on the mystery and the miracle of Jesus’s birth.



  1. Glencairn Museum
  2. Smithsonian Magazine
  3. Wikipedia – Nativity of Jesus in Art
  4. Pinterest
  5. Shepherd of Souls
  6. DJournal
  7. Mavcor Journal
  9. The Telegraph
  10. GotQuestions
  11. National Gallery of Art
  12. Christianity Today

Theological Implications and Interpretations

The biblical accounts of Jesus’ birth, particularly the presence of shepherds, bear deep theological implications that extend beyond the historical event. These elements offer profound insights into the nature of God, His relationship with humanity, and the essence of faith. The humble shepherds, chosen as the first witnesses of the incarnation, serve as a powerful symbol of God’s grace and love that transcends human hierarchies and norms. In this section, we delve into these theological implications and interpretations, exploring how they continue to shape Christian thought and understanding.

God’s Unconditional Love and Grace

God’s choice to reveal the birth of Jesus to the shepherds is seen as a testament to His unconditional love and grace. In contrast to the societal norms of the time, which placed great value on wealth, status, and power, God chose to announce His incarnation to those who were considered lowly and insignificant. This act underscores the message that God’s love and grace are not limited by human standards and are accessible to everyone, regardless of their status or circumstances1.

The Humility of God

The inclusion of shepherds in the nativity story also highlights the humility of God. By choosing to be born in a manger and revealing Himself first to humble shepherds, God demonstrated a willingness to identify with the lowly and the marginalized. This act of humility is a central theme in Christian theology, reflecting God’s selfless love and His desire to connect with all of humanity2.

Active Faith

The shepherds’ response to the angelic announcement—leaving their flocks to seek the newborn King—serves as an example of active faith. They did not merely passively receive the news but acted upon it, setting out to find Jesus despite the uncertainties that may have lain ahead. This element of the story serves as a call for believers to be active participants in their faith, willing to step out in trust and obedience in response to God’s revelation3.

As we explore these theological implications and interpretations, we gain a deeper understanding of the nativity story. It is more than just a historical account of Jesus’ birth; it is a rich tapestry of divine love, grace, and humility, inviting us to respond with active and trusting faith.



  1. – Shepherds in the Ancient Near East
  2. GotQuestions – Jesus the Good Shepherd
  3. Christianity Today – Pastoral Leadership

Conclusion Shepherd Imagery

The nativity scene is a powerful embodiment of the Gospel’s core message, with each component prompting us to delve deeper into the profound essence of Christmas. The symbolism of the shepherds stands as a compelling testament to God’s humble manifestation and His all-encompassing, compassionate love. As we behold the nativity scenes in the coming Christmas season, let’s endeavor to embody the shepherds’ faith, humility, and readiness to accept the Good News with open hearts.

Prayer of Salvation

Giving your life to the Lord is the best decision you can ever make in your entire life on earth. I invite you to make Jesus your Lord today. In Romans 10vs.9 the Bible says that, “If thou confess with thy mouth, that Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shall be saved.” Please, pray this prayer:

Dear heavenly Father, I believe with all of my heart that Jesus is Lord. I believe that he died on the cross and that on the third day God raised him from the dead. I affirm that Jesus is the Lord of my life from this day onward. I’m now born again. In the name of Jesus. Amen!

Well done for making this prayer! You are now born again. Attend a bible based church and keep learning the truth of God‘s Word as you become an excellent Christian.

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