Luke 2:8-14

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 to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the 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.”

 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favors!” Luke 2:8-14

Back when I studied the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke) in my seminary days, I don’t recall much being made of the parallels between the birth narratives of Jesus and the birth narratives of Caesar Augustus. Nor do I remember learning very much about the social and political environment into which Jesus (and John) were born. The information was certainly out there, but our attention was more about “looking back” to the Hebrew scriptures rather than “looking around” at the world at the time.

Obviously, things have changed over the last several decades. I welcome those changes. What some people disregard and criticize as “historical revisionism”, I welcome as deeper insights, not only to how we used to look at the world, but how much more helpful those new insights are in understanding the world around us. That happens here in the story of Jesus’ birth.

The two things most noticeable in today’s text are the shepherds and the angelic proclamations.

From a biblical point of view, we look back to David, the Shepherd King, and immediately understand how important the announcement to the shepherds was. Jesus too would be a shepherd. Jesus too would be a King. Only his flock would change.

But from the point of view of Jesus’ day, that the first announcement would be made to shepherds was scandalous. Shepherds were the lowest workers on the social totem pole. They were isolated from others. They were notorious for overgrazing on land that didn’t belong to them. They smelled like the sheep they watched over. They were as despised as tax collectors.

Yet is was to shepherds that the announcement of Jesus’ birth first came! That might not tell us much about shepherds, but it tells us a lot about Jesus.

Then we turn to the songs of the angels. The announcement to the shepherds and the song of the angelic chorus. Every phrase in those announcements were echoes of what had long been said of Caesar Augustus. Caesar’s birth was heralded by celestial portents. Caesar was the Prince of Peace, the architect of the Pax Romana. Caesar was Lord. His birth was “good news”, as was every future decree he would make.

“Nope”, says Luke. “Jesus is Lord.”

This will be a strange year in the life of the church. We won’t be able to enjoy a live Christmas pageant with all of the adorable children playing the parts of the story we are so comfortable with. Our attention is torn between pandemic and political intrigue. Maybe that is not such a bad thing. Maybe it will redirect us toward Jesus the Healer and Jesus the King. As it should.

Let us pray: Gracious Lord, you came to us humility and vulnerability. Your birth announced to the lowest of the low, that we might immediately know that your love is for all. Use us to be the peace you promise. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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