What is interesting about discussing people who are marginalized, is that we never seem to like to talk about their subsequent counterparts. For example, it is very common to talk about those who are underprivileged. In our minds we have arrived at an arbitrary determination on what the standard of privilege is, and we recognize that some people happen to be under that level of privilege. Yet we never go further and ask how entire communities or even countries become “underprivileged”. As if North Philly just became poor on its own. As if Haiti’s poverty has nothing to do with France’s occupation, slavery, and exploitation of that nation. Take it a bit further and we must consider that if there is such a thing as “underprivileged”, then why don’t we ever talk about those who are “over-privileged”. For there to be an underprivileged means that there must be its grammatical opposite. But when we talk about people being “over-privileged” it gets us all uncomfortable. You see marginalized people are marginalized because others have claimed the center, something that only God has rights to. If people did not selfishly and sinfully prioritize themselves over others, people would not be marginalized. Marginalization requires that some are participating in the practice of centralization, that is the dominating and excluding of others for one’s own gain. The shepherd’s here are left on the fringes of society and under an empire that has a centralized mentality, which is opposite to the other-oriented love that we are called to share with the world as followers of Christ.
Let’s jump back to the beginning of the chapter…
Verse 1: Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus to register all the empire for taxes. (NET)
We are in the midst of exploring God’s special favor as he entrusts the good news with these mere marginalized shepherds. At the same exact point, we see in verse 1 of chapter 2, that Caesar Augustus, the Roman Emperor, is making a decree that has the whole empire registering for taxes. What is ironic here is that Augustus has conquered and consolidated the Roman Empire, where he took captive control with a centralized power over the entire empire. Furthermore, he claimed that his adopted father, Julius Caesar was divine after he passed away, and even audaciously began to refer to himself as “a son of god”, believing his own press, which claimed that he had brought peace and justice to the world after controlling the Roman Empire. This was a claim that only God was rightfully due. And yet, with all his centralized power, the Emperor is clueless of what is taking place in the little town of Bethlehem. God was in the midst of enacting the greatest moment in human history, the birth of Jesus, which in a few decades would become an unstoppable subversive force that not even the most powerful empire in the world could halt. Even here at this moment in the story, Caesar is so distant from God’s presence, activity, and movement in the world. He is so removed from God’s Main Stage that he is clueless of Jesus’ birth. Despite his registering all people in his empire, he doesn’t even have Jesus on his radar. He will never even see Jesus face to face. In essence, the one who has attempted to occupy the center is actually the most marginalized one in God’s redemptive activity in the world, excluded from experiencing this most amazing moment in human history.