25 December 2007Luke 2:1-20
"To you is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour, 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." (v.11-12)
This passage is the other birth narrative of Jesus as recorded
in the Gospels (the other one is in Matthew's Gospel in
chapter 1). In Luke's account we have shepherds and angels in
the story witnessing the birth of Jesus, the Christ.
This text comes after the dramatic events surrounding the birth of John the Baptist. Luke's account offers us a key vantage point to one of the prime witnesses to this story, namely the shepherds.
The shepherds would have occupied an important social and economic role in the life of ancient Near Eastern communities around the time of Jesus' birth. In rural and agricultural communities shepherds were hugely important. But their economic importance was not matched by their social status.
In fact, as largely nomadic people, they would have been on the edge of most communities at this time. People were expected to attend the temple on a regular basis and observe all the cleansing rituals but because of the demands of their jobs, shepherds would have found this an impossibility.
I wonder whether the status of the shepherds might not be likened to sanitation workers in our present time? Most modern societies could not function without these often-unseen people who clear away our waste. But such workers are rarely accorded any great sense of social status with the important job they undertake on the behalf of many!
In this passage, the first people to witness the birth of Jesus are a group of persons of low social status. The outsiders get first glimpse of the most amazing event to occur within human history. Talk about having the best seats in the house at an epoch making event! Now what about that for a turn up for the books?
But then again, it can be argued that Jesus' birth and continued life has always been one for overturning social conventions and expected norms.
Who are the unseen people of low status whose presence enables our society to function?
In what ways can the Church, like Jesus, invite these people into the central place of our communities so that they are noticed?