Christmas on the margins

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.
- Luke 2:8-11

Christmas is for everyone, even those on the margins of society. This message is embedded in the Christmas narrative and is so easily missed when we hear the story in our day and age.

Shepherds held a very low social position in the society into which Jesus was born. Although most of the legendary figures of the Jewish community had been shepherds (Abraham, Jacob/Israel, Moses, and David to name a few), the work didn’t pay well or set one up for robust participation in village life. Shepherds would have struggled to be ceremonially clean and would often earn the reputation of being lazy or untrustworthy.

When a king or emperor came to town, meeting with the local shepherds wouldn’t be on the top of his “To Do” list. The movers and shakers of the world rarely have time for people on the margins of society. To paraphrase Mr. Bogart: it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.

But on that first Christmas God sent his very own messengers to tell these little people the good news that the Messiah has been born. These little shepherds received an invitation to meet the king, to be his first visitors, to be at the front of the line to meet him.

The wealthy and the powerful will find a way to meet Jesus. Simon hosts Jesus for a meal. Nicodemus gains a nighttime audience. The religious and political leaders summon him by force. But, remember, Christmas is for everyone.

The Jesus who is laid in a manger and visited by shepherds is the same Jesus who touches lepers, reaches across ethic lines, visits tax collectors, and earns himself a reputation for being a friend of sinners. When we celebrate Christmas, we celebrate the radical and surprising inclusivity of our God – shocking if you’re an insider and good, good news if you find yourself on the margins.

Who do you know who’s been pushed to the margins in your family, your workplace, your community, or your society? How can you reach out to them in Jesus’ name this Christmas?

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