Luke 2: A Shepherd’s Christmas Story on the Margins (Reflection 2)

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.

Published by Drew G. I. Hart, PhD

Drew G. I. Hart is a theology professor in the Biblical & Religious Studies department at Messiah College with ten years of pastoral experience. Hart majored in Biblical Studies at Messiah College as an undergraduate student, he attained his M.Div. with an urban concentration from Missio Seminary in Philadelphia, and he received his Ph.D. in theology and ethics from Lutheran Theological Seminary-Philadelphia. Drew was born and raised in Norristown, Pa and has lived extensively in Philadelphia and Harrisburg, PA as well. Dr. Hart’s dissertation research explored how Christian discipleship, as framed by Black theologies and contemporary Anabaptist theologies, gesture the Church towards untangling the forces of white supremacy and the inertia of western Christendom which have plagued its witness in society for too long. As two traditions that emerged from the underside of violent and oppressive western Christian societies, he found Black theology and Anabaptism each repeatedly turning to the particularity of Jesus in the gospel narratives. From that arises an ethic of solidarity with the oppressed and pursuing liberation in Black theology and an ethic of radical peacemaking and ecclesial nonconformity in the Anabaptist tradition. Each challenge the violent and oppressive logics of mainstream western Christianity and salvage the call to follow the way of Christ. Together in dialogue they deepen our analysis of the churches failures and the need for Jesus-shaped repentance. His work beyond teaching and writing has included pastoring in Harrisburg and Philadelphia, working for an inner-city afterschool program for black and brown middle school boys, delivering lectures and leading anti-racism workshops, collaborating with local faith-based organizers and activists in his city, and doing a broad range of public theology. He is also a co-leader for a local Harrisburg faith-based relational network called FREE Together which has collaborated with POWER Interfaith, MILPA, the Shut Down Berks Detention Center movement, and a little with the Poor People’s Campaign. Trouble I’ve Seen: Changing the Way the Church Views Racism by Drew Hart, has received great reviews by Publisher’s Weekly and Englewood Review of Books. Endorsing this resource, Shane Claiborne said, “This book is a gift from the heart of one of the sharpest young theologians in the United States. Hold it carefully, and allow it to transform you--and our blood-stained streets.” As a text, Trouble I’ve Seen utilizes personal and everyday stories, Jesus-shaped theological ethics, and anti-racism frameworks to transform the church’s understanding and social witness. Trouble I’ve Seen focuses on white supremacy as an overarching framework for understanding racism, with careful attention to its systemic and socializing dimensions. However, unlike sociology textbooks on the subject Dr. Hart also considers the subversive vocation of Jesus and the nonviolent yet revolutionary implications his life ought to have for his followers today. His newest book project is entitled Who Will Be a Witness?: Igniting Activism for God’s Justice, Love, and Deliverance and will be published September 1, 2020. Who Will Be A Witness? invites the church to liberate its centuries long captivity to supremacist practices, and to expand its restricted political imagination in view of Jesus’ messianic reign. The book guides disciples of Jesus into joining God’s delivering presence through scriptural reasoning, historical reflection, practical theology for congregational life, social change theory, and the Christian call to love our neighbor. It is written for congregations, leaders, and students that understand that pursuing God’s justice goes way beyond waiting around for electoral seasons to come around. It is about the ongoing vocation of the Church right now, at the grassroots level, seeking after the wellbeing of their neighbors through faithful, strategic, and concrete action. Drew recently joined the Inverse Podcast team serving as a cohost along with Australian peace activist Jarrod Mckenna. Together they interview interesting people and explore how scripture can turn our ethical imagination and the violent and unjust systems of our world upside-down, which contrasts with interpreting the Bible as a tool for the status quo. Dr. Drew Hart was the recipient of bcmPEACE’s 2017 Peacemaker Award, a 2019 W.E.B. Dubois Award from a Disciples of Christ congregation, and in October 2019, Dr. Hart was chosen as Elizabethtown College’s 2019 Peace Fellow. Each award recognized him for his local and national justice work and public theology. You can find Drew Hart on Twitter and Facebook, or you can catch him as he travels and speaks regularly across the country to colleges, conferences, and churches. Drew and Renee, and their three boys (Micah, Dietrich, and Vincent) live in Harrisburg, PA and attend Harrisburg First Church of the Brethren.

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