“In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be enrolled.” – Luke 2:1
“And in that region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them…” – Luke 2:8-9
It’s no original thought to note the disparity between those two parties connected so closely to the birth of Christ. Preachers have talked about it for centuries. My insignificant contribution to the discussion will add little, except perhaps to reinforce the scandalous and counterintuitive behavior of God.
We all know the Caesars. They ruled the Roman Empire by force of will and military might. Nothing happened without their knowledge and permission. They dispatched underlings to carry out their decrees in the far-flung provinces. Those men are long since forgotten. Few except theologians, arcane historians, and archaeologists are interested in them. The would-be Caesars and their tawdry toadies litter our landscape to this day and, to some extent, still force their will on others.
Certainly no one remembers the names of any of those shepherds, and for good reason. That scruffy group of ne’er-do-wells spent their nights sleeping among the animals on the hillside. They were the lowest of the low, looked down upon by “decent” citizens like us. No governor or tetrarch, let alone a Caesar, would even be aware of their existence. They were the scum of the earth.
Yet to whom does God send the angel to announce the birth of this child, Messiah, King, Savior, Christ? It’s not the Caesars, the Quirinius’s, the Herods, or the Pilates. It’s the ones no one wanted anything to do with. God wanted them in on the plot, knowing they’d be talked about, sung about, and adorn crèches on mantles for millennia to come.
This is inconceivable to our celebrity obsessed sensibilities in the 21st century. We care about the famous and infamous, the self-promoters and powerful, regardless of their actual value to society. We’re in love with fame. We’ll do anything to vicariously share the artificial spotlight in which their perfect bodies and faces shine.
God wants none of it. If he’s obsessed with anyone, it’s the humble, the lowly, the poor, and the oppressed. Meanwhile we fall on the side of, even grovel in the presence of, the high, mighty, wealthy, and oppressors. That attitude couldn’t be further from the heart of God. He has this thing about aiming low and yet hitting the highest mark.
This Christmas and every day, I want to know and live His Heart. Loving more than being loved, giving more than receiving, welcoming the unwelcome, looking beyond the pretty faces to the scarred souls beneath. Comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.
The truth is we’re all outcast shepherds keeping compulsive watch over our flocks, be they children, possessions, savings, or self. Let us leave those flocks on the hillside, trusting them to His care, and go with haste “over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.“
For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given;
and the government will be upon his shoulder,
and his name will be called
“Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
– the prophet Isaiah