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Luke 2:1-14

We have waited… and waited… and waited… and Jesus is finally here… along with a whole host of bewildering characters to fill out this outrageous narrative of God incarnate in helpless infant form! The story is so familiar it is difficult to bring anything new to light, but maybe that’s exactly the point.

The journey from Nazareth to Bethlehem is close to 100 miles, based on current GPS data. That’s about 33 hours of walking time, if you don’t stop. It’s safe to assume Mary and Joseph didn’t use this exact route. Maybe they even knew a shortcut. It’s also safe to assume they stopped—maybe a lot. But from any perspective, that’s a very long journey for anyone, on foot. For a young girl who is nine months pregnant, it’s unfathomable. But customs are customs and laws are laws and prophecies are prophecies. So they traveled, because they had to, and Messiah was born, just as had been foretold if not quite as had been expected.

As someone who has given birth to five children, myself, under admittedly more favorable conditions, I have to imagine all Mary and Joseph really wanted was a silent night, but as it turns out; we’re not the only ones who were waiting.

Cue the shepherds. Second (or third or fourth or last) class citizens by anyone’s standards leading up to the time of Christ, stereotypically labeled indiscriminately as sinners, exiled to the desert to perform their ‘worthless’ work—out of sight, out of mind—they are the ones keeping watch by night and, subsequently, the first to hear and then spread the good news. Maybe Joseph had tacked up a makeshift sign, “Do not disturb, Mary and baby are sleeping,” but the angels were loud, and these strangers were coming to celebrate peace on earth—the kind that brings great joy to all the people. Don’t miss that part. All… the … people… shepherds included and even shepherds first!

Striving toward peace on earth in the midst of oppression can look messy… can be messy. Peace is hard to come by, and the temptation to separate and divide is nothing new. The marginalized… the oppressed… they have always waited in eager expectation for the Messiah.

It’s not difficult to ignore the cries of the oppressed when they are so disgusting to us that they become less than human in our sight.  And yet, the very Messiah they anticipated came not only to liberate but to stand in solidarity, for Jesus would one day proclaim, “I’m a shepherd too, and as it turns out, I’m a good one.” [1]

If anyone has ever had the ‘right’ to pull rank, it was Jesus; and if anyone had the right to turn strangers away in order to claim a few moments of precious sleep, it was Mary and Joseph. Instead, the King of all of creation stoops down low enough to save the very least of all—to make the broken not only his priority but his very identity, and his weary parents welcome the strangers not only out of some sort of obligation, but Mary actually “treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.”

Peace and power do not play well together. Peace requires humility, and what is more humble than the scene of the nativity? A yet to be wed teenager and her betrothed, far from home with a baby in their arms, in a barn, surrounded by sights and sounds and smells of bodily fluids and animals and hay and those lousy, marginalized shepherds all set to the score of noisy angels who kicked this whole thing off months ago with their appearances! It’s the furthest thing from a tranquil definition of peace we can imagine, but sometimes we don’t define things well. As Mother Teresa once said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”

This kind of peace comes when we willingly relinquish our ‘right’ to be exalted as the chosen people, the ones who matter most, the rule makers and power wielders and holders of all the resources.  As it turns out, it looks like Jesus knew exactly how to belong to the people, and the people surely belonged to him.  Sharing his peace didn’t diminish it at all.  It’s not limited.  There’s enough good news to go around.  [1] John 10:11, paraphrased.