Luke 2: A Shepherd’s Christmas Story on the Margins (Reflection 3)

Luke 2:9-10 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were absolutely terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid! Listen carefully, for I proclaim to you good news that brings great joy to all the people:

I can’t imagine what was going through the shepherd’s minds as these angels appeared before them. We do know that they are terrified, and I am sure they could not fathom any good reason why they would have such an encounter. They were just some everyday, round the way, shepherds’, trying to feed their families, trying to survive Roman oppression, and trying to keep their dignity in the midst of death-dealing marginalization. And yet it was to them whom the angels are sent, and it was these shepherds that were entrusted with the most important life-giving messages. This message of good news goes first to the marginalized. It was a life changing announcement that would change everything. This was a message that brings hope to the poor, uplifts the broken hearted, revitalizes the tired, liberates the oppressed, and declares that the Jubilee of God’s Kingdom has broken into our world.

Verse 11 Today your Savior is born in the city of David. He is Christ the Lord.

And here is what that good news that they shared was. It was that on that day, a savior, a deliverer, a liberator was to born in the city of David. He is the Messiah, the awaited King of Israel who was prophesied about in the Jewish scriptures. This Messiah, this Christ is the true Lord.  For us then that means that all those counterfeit lords that demand our full allegiance will be exposed as the frauds and fakes that they are in the moment of complete revelation and ultimate consummation. For Jesus is the fullness of the Deity in bodily form. He is the same Yahweh who made covenant and relationship with the Israelites. He is the same God who spoke all creation into existence. And it is in and through Him that all things are held together. He is Jesus the Christ.

Verse 12 This will be a sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped in strips of cloth and lying in a manger.”

Can you imagine how elated these shepherds must have been at this moment? Angels had just revealed to them the greatest news in all of human history, a message that will bring great joy to the world, because the liberator and king, the prophesied Christ on that day is to be born. But notice the sign that the angels give, which will identify Jesus to the shepherds as the Messiah. They told them that they would find Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords… laying in a feeding trough. That is the way that they will identify Jesus. He won’t be identified because of some royal procession, he won’t be identified for being born in a palace, and he won’t be identified because of a royal announcement that was given. No instead, he would be recognized for being born in some little town out in the country, laying in a humble feeding trough. The very location and circumstance of his birth was a symbol and sign of solidarity with the socially outcast. It bears witness to the fact that “God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something.” And so we must consider the significance of why the Most High God would choose to express himself in such lowly way. Howard Thurman, in his classic book Jesus and the Disinherited, noted three things that are often ignored about Jesus’ birth and life. 1st was that Jesus was Jewish culturally, religiously, and ethnically. 2nd Jesus was poor. And 3rd, Jesus lived a subdominant and oppressed life under the rule of the Roman Empire. These are more than merely interesting facts about Jesus, given that these are the precise ways that God chose to reveal himself to the world, it demonstrates God’s solidarity with the majority of the world who struggle in poverty and oppression. And it is in the place of marginalization that God has chosen to be victorious over sin and death, and over rulers and authorities. Jesus birth in the manger is a protest against the powers of this world that denigrate the dispossessed. In his incarnation, Jesus dismisses the narrative of the powerful and insists that the good news is for all. That is all who are willing to abandon self and embrace Jesus and His Kingdom.

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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