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 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.’ 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 favours!’ When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
God vs the Emperor: which is the real Good News?
This is seriously explosive stuff! Forget your Nativity Play with shepherds in dressing gowns and tea towels, clutching woolly toy sheep and clustered around a manger with nice clean straw in a wooden stable with a star shining brightly overhead and Gabriel looking on fondly. Focus instead on the risk, danger, outraged religious sensibilities and God’s declaration of war on Rome by the angels. Watch as God begins to change the world before our very eyes in these texts.
One thing to remember about Luke’s Christmas story: we’re supposed to see and hear the events unfold through the eyes and ears of the little people: poor people; women; religious and social outcasts; sex workers; sell-outs; shepherds.
This is God starting something. In the Roman Empire, the term “Good News” (gospel) was a technical term for anything the Emperor did. It was supposed to be good news for the Empire – or at least, those who counted. When something momentous happened – the birth of an Emperor, an imperial victory etc – official announcements were made throughout the Empire.
The angelic announcement of “Good News to all people” mimics the Roman imperial announcements. It’s a direct challenge: Augustus was announced as “Lord”, “Saviour”, “Prince of Peace” and “Son of God” (as well as “Our Father in heaven”). The angels tell that Jesus is Good News because he will save the world from Rome. And he is Good News for all the people in the world whom Empire and the religious authorities deem unfit, unimportant, and unincluded.
If you’re going to go up against Rome, it’s advisable to have an army behind you. A BIG one! Yet God’s “army” is a refugee peasant baby who hasn’t even a warm bed to be born into. Buckle up – things are about to get interesting …
Christmas God, You choose stables over palaces; Peasants over power-brokers; Shepherds over influencers; Babies over warriors. This is the way to the peace proclaimed at Christmas. Help us to mirror your choices. Deliver us from the seductions of Power Wealth Privilege Popularity Influence.
May we, like the shepherds, Draw near to the manger And see Jesus again For the very first time.
Lawrence Moore, Mission & Discipleship Mentor, North Western Synod