In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. (This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) And everyone went to their own town to register.
So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.
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. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:1-14
How do these words strike you: shepherds are trash. They are lowborn people whose lives are of no consequence. If they were valuable to God, they wouldn’t have been born as shepherds. They don’t really understand the Law, and they don’t follow it. God doesn’t hear them, because their prayers are hindered by their lowly status and their uncleanness.
I hope the previous paragraph offended you. I hope you are angry that shepherds – or any group of people – would be slandered and degraded and disrespected like that. I hope you see the shepherds as people whom God created and whom God loves. I hope you see them as well suited to visit the Messiah on the day of His birth and to give glory to God.
You and I are offended when a human being is degraded. And yet, in the day that Jesus was born, this is how many of the religious leaders and others saw shepherds. In fact, in both the pagan and the Hebrew worldviews, there were hierarchical classes of people. Some people were born “higher” than others. People like shepherds were not suited to be honored or to be close to God. They were seen as low and often worthless.
This baby that they worshiped, as you know, was Jesus the Messiah. He would change everything! He would preach to the poor and rich alike. He would up-end our notions of value and worth. He would preach that all of us are sinners, and yet all of us are loved by God. He would make a way for both the proud to repent and the lowly to glorify God.
And, even here at His birth, this was true as the lowly shepherds were chosen as witnesses who would glorify him.
All human beings are equally created in God’s image. Every shepherd, every king, is equal in God’s eyes. God loves the world.
Sometimes we are told, today, that poor mothers shouldn’t bring their children to birth. They should have the option to terminate the child’s life before birth. Only a century ago, people were advocating eugenics, hoping that the undesirable people of the world would be sterilized, and that low class or minority babies would be terminated. They were hoping that only the best people would survive to contribute to society.
We still live with some of that thinking today. And yet the presence of the shepherds—those poor, outcast, uneducated people—at that manger shows us that everyone can glorify God. Everyone deserves life and has a purpose in God’s kingdom.
May this Christmas Day bring a revival in Your churches, Lord, to affirm and honor Life. As we sing the old familiar songs about the Christ Child in the manger, let us not be lulled by familiarity but roused anew to protect the unborn and the vulnerable, those made in the image of God. We ask these things in His Name, Amen
This month’s reflections are written by an anonymous Anglican.