Luke 2: A Shepherd’s Christmas Story on the Margins (Reflection 4)

 

Luke 2:13-16 Suddenly a vast, heavenly army appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among people with whom he is pleased!” When the angels left them and went back to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, that the Lord has made known to us.”16 So they hurried off and located Mary and Joseph, and found the baby lying in a manger.

This whole story of God’s messenger’s coming to Bethlehem to some shepherd’s out in the field and announcing the new king should seem oddly familiar to those who are knowledgeable of the Biblical narrative. Remember in 1 Samuel, when God sends Samuel to Bethlehem to pick out a new king for Israel. Jessie has his sons lined up for Samuel to check out which one might be the new king. However, David the youngest and smallest of them, was excluded from the entire process and was out in the field working as a shepherd. God reminds Samuel that he is not impressed with the outward things that impress people, and tells him to anoint David as the new king of Israel. It’s a story that echoes Jesus’ birth and also points out something common that we see weaved throughout the biblical narrative. God loves to take those on the Margins and place them on His Main Stage.

17-20 When they saw him, they related what they had been told about this child, and all who heard it were astonished at what the shepherds said. But Mary treasured up all these words, pondering in her heart what they might mean. Sot the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen; everything was just as they had been told.

And so it was in Bethlehem, a place on the margins, where these shepherd’s experienced the birth of God’s revolution, ushering in the Kingdom of peace and justice. I invite you to join in with the spirit of those shepherds and declare “Let us go to the margins (Bethlehem) and see this thing that has happened.” In joining in with God’s revolutionary mission, we will experience his divine presence in fresh ways. And we can bear witness to how God can make a way out of no way. And notice that the shepherd’s returned praising God for what they had experienced. I bet they were singing “angels bow before Him, heaven and earth adore Him, what a mighty God we serve.”  Therefore, like Mary, let’s stop and consider the significance and meaning of Jesus’ birth and particularly how Jesus, through his birth, finds solidarity with the marginalized in the world, and how God takes those on the margins and places them on His main stage of divine activity throughout history.

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.

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.

Luke 2 A Shepherd’s Christmas Story on The Margins (Reflection 1)

It’s Christmas eve, and we have approached the celebration of Christmas. Let’s reflect on a passage today that will hopefully open our eyes to God’s subversive and revolutionary act of incarnating into our world on the margins. And so we will jump into Luke’s account of the Shepherds receiving the announcement of Jesus’ birth. Let us consider the implications of what God was doing in this and why it matters for us not only during this Christmas season, but every day as we faithfully follow our Suffering and Crucified Servant in the Margins, in hopes that we might be exalted with our Majestic and Victorious Messiah on His Main Stage.

8 Now there were shepherds nearby living out in the field, keeping guard over their flock at night.

Now, before we move any further, we need to park here for a second. We need to understand what it meant to be a shepherd in 1st century Palestine. You see the shepherd’s lived a life of marginalization. During this time, Rome was the ruling empire of the land, and so all of Israel understood what it meant to be oppressed and what it meant to live life with someone’s foot against your neck. The Jews despised their Roman occupiers and desperately wanted to see them kicked out of their land. They were oppressed, exploited, and humiliated. And yet, when we understand the social class of shepherd’s in this context, we remember that they themselves among their own people were despised and unwanted, seen as misfits and cheats, and left living on the margins of society.

There are lots of people who understand what it is like to be marginalized, what it is like to be unwanted, what it is like to be stereotyped and lied on. What a horrible thing it is when we lie on others claiming that they are something other than people made in God’s image and to whom God loves immensely. What a horrible thing it is when we exclude people from participating in the life of communities and societies, ignored and invisible to the masses. What a horrible thing it is when you are marginalized, and left on the fringes, only to encounter others who hold a spirit of apathy and contempt against you’re very existence. This was the life of a 1st century shepherd living in Galilee.