The first part of Luke’s gospel for today sounds like a “Who’s Who” article—dropping names of the big shots of the day like Emperor Augustus and Quirinius. In contrast the main characters in this narrative are Mary and Joseph (an engaged pregnant couple), homeless shepherds who live out in the fields, an angel, and a choir of angels, and a newborn baby.
The beauty of this story is that it’s not about emperors, governors or taxes. The beauty is the simple story of how God chooses to come into our world, at specific times in specific ways, not to those we consider big shots, but to regular folk like us—hardworking people, just trying to keep it together. Let’s check out these people in Bethlehem.
Joseph was not a rich man. He was a carpenter by trade. He had a skill that according to custom was almost certainly taught to him by his father. We are not told, but it’s a fair assumption that Jesus was also a carpenter, taught by Joseph. That was what fathers and sons did back then.
Mary, the mother of Jesus, has an undisputed significant role in history. She was young and she was a female. Two things not valued highly in the social order of the time and culture in which she lived. In the “Song of Mary” recorded in Luke, Mary rejoices in having found favor from God, even though she considered herself a lowly servant. “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my savior: for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant. From this day all generations will call me blessed: the Almighty has done great things for me, and holy is His name. He has mercy on those who fear him in every generation.”
A major theme in the song is the inclusion of the lowly and the marginalized, which pervades the entire gospel of Luke. But, the most powerful aspect of the song is found in the verses that manifest the theme of reversal of status, another theme we find in our manger scene. “We recognize the hiddenness of God in the lowliness of Mary”.
The message of the Christ child did not come through a prestigious messenger or by a summons into the royal palace or as a pronouncement from the religious authorities of the time. No, the message came to shepherds, who lived with their flocks by night, summer and winter, out in the field. The message came to poor and common people, and it was a message of joy and a promise of hope.
“In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But, the angel said stood before them, ‘do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger”.
Isn’t it odd the way that God chooses to be revealed to us? It’s like it’s completely backward to the way I was trained in marketing. We would map out a completely different strategy and custom design the message to make it sellable to every age and people group. Of course we would make sure the message is branded correctly, so that the message can be distinguished from other messages. Once we have our strategic marketing plan in place, various forms of merchandising can begin.
Sounds like Christmas shopping in the mall, doesn’t it? God took a completely opposite approach. God breaks into the world using an engaged pregnant couple, homeless shepherds, an angel, a choir of angels and a newborn baby.
The meaning behind the messengers God chose to use is this: Do not evaluate a person’s worth by wealth, power, prestige or appearance. God comes to regular folk who are willing to listen and share the good news with others. And, this is the message St. Alban’s Church leaves with you today:
“Do not be afraid: for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Messiah, the Lord. This shall be a sign for you: You will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger”.
“So the shepherds went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in a manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about the child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But, Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them”.
Christ our Savior is born!