Who Invited Them for Christmas?
Luke 2:6-20 (King James Version) And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. 7And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.
8And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. 9And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. 10And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. 11For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. 12And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.
13And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, 14Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men. 15And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.
16And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger. 17And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child. 18And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart. 20And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.
There is controversy regarding Mary. Some people believe Jesus was the only child Mary had. Others feel Mary had other children. The term first-born is a reference to Jesus’ special role, responsibilities, and universal supremacy.1 This term might not mean Jesus had brothers and sisters.2 The mystery of Mary’s family remains with us after more than twenty centuries, because it was not important to the message that the Kingdom of God was present in Jesus. What is important is the message that God loves you so much that God the Son came to the earth to find you, to show God’s love to you. Luke’s gospel shows that love very well.
Luke’s gospel presents Jesus, as compassionate and loving. The New Geneva Study Bible describes Luke’s gospel as being concerned with those who were “neglected in contemporary religion but could find peace in God’s salvation.”3 The contributors to the Catholic Study Bible observe, “No gospel writer is more concerned than Luke with the mercy and compassion of Jesus.”4
The extroverted love of God is seen in Christ’s birth narrative. Through the gospel of Luke, we see God reaching down to the very poor, to the very outcast. Jesus’ bed is a manger. Because Christmas songs talk about the manger, the manger sounds very dignified, very regal, almost like a romantic place for a child to sleep. Believe me, there was nothing dignified, nothing regal, and nothing romantic about a manger. The manger was a feeding trough - nothing more.5 The ultimate revelation of God, the ultimate expression of God, the first place where the incarnate God started to touch people was in a feeding trough. Nobody needs to feel their lot in life is too common, too lowly to meet God. God’s been in those lowly places!
The revelation of God to humanity is that God understands what it means to be human. Jesus knew what it was like to be an outcast. There was no room for Jesus in the inn. William Barclay observes, “The only place where there was room for him was on a cross.”6 Jesus understands the rejection you have experienced in life. The Son has been there and done that.
In Luke's account, angels of God appear to the shepherds. The Lucan story only describes the invitation to meet the baby Messiah being extended to the shepherds. And how do the shepherds feel about the appearance of those from the heavenly? They were scared spitless. God's messengers tell the terrified shepherds, "Don't be afraid! I bring you good news . . . "7
After the shepherds found Joseph, Mary, and the Christ child, they told everybody what happened. "All who heard the shepherds' story were astonished."8 There was a reason why the people were astonished.
We've read the Christmas story so often that we miss facts that help explain why the people were astonished. We will back up to more information. Shepherds did not have a place of respect and honor. They are described in the Bible as an abomination. " . . . every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians."9 Good Jewish people might have regarded shepherds as an abomination too. They were despised because their work would not let them keep the ceremonial law.10 One commentator notes they were regarded as thieves, considered unreliable, and were “not allowed to give evidence in the courts.”11
William Barclay observes that the Temple had their own herds of sheep, and those sheep were kept in pastures close to Bethlehem. He wonders if those who tended the Temple lambs ended up being the first to see the Lamb of God.12 That would have been heavenly social justice.
Angels, messengers of God, in the Lucan account, do not appear to the rich, the powerful, the political leaders, or the respected. The good news is presented to those considered by ancients to be an abomination. God went directly to an abomination class, an abomination occupation to give the good news. Those who were an abomination were privileged to have a special audience with Messiah. There was a special connection between God and those who were considered an abomination. God still has a special connection with those who are considered an abomination.
From the manger, from the feed trough in Bethlehem comes a powerful message for God’s gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans-identified, queer, and questioning tribe. God has not forgotten you. The exclusion is over. It ended in Bethlehem! Christ is here! The Kingdom is here! And you’ve been included!
For far too long, society and the church have viewed you as an abomination, as criminals. Even when you served the church, you were not welcome in the church, because you were not considered clean. Now you know you are a chosen people. You are God’s first chosen to experience the Kingdom in the Christ child.
Many oppressed people get that message. They understand all people are worthwhile, that all people deserve to be treated with respect. They see that in the life and ministry of Jesus. Martin Luther King, Jr. Was one person who just got it. His understanding of the godly call for the liberation Black people helped fan the fires of the civil rights movement. King observes, “Despite the fact that all too often people see in the church a power opposed to any change . . . the church preserves a powerful idea which urges people toward the summits and opens their eyes as to their own destiny . . . I have seen men and women rising and shaking off their chains. They had just discovered they were God’s children, and that, as God’s children, it was impossible to enslave them.”13
The Christmas message in Luke is one of social, emotional, and spiritual liberation. The Kingdom of God is here today, and it is in you! Queer child of God you are free. No longer are in slavery to the opinions and the whim of political leaders, church officials, propositions, and society. No longer dancing on a string controlled by homophobic, biphobic, and transphobic people. No longer enslaved by closets. No longer enslaved by internalized self-hate. You are free. Free! Free! Free at last! Shake off your chains! Stand up! Stand tall! Hold your head up! Act like you believe in yourself! The Ruler of the Universe does! And for God’s sake walk out of here as men and women set free! For that you are.
1Eugene Nida. Good News Study Bible: Today’s English Version. (New York: American Bible Society, 1993), 1377.
2Donald Senior, et. al., eds. Indicate “firstborn son does not necessarily mean that Mary had other sons. It is a legal description . . .” The Catholic Study Bible: New American Bible. (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1990), NT, 101.
3Luder Whitlock, Jr., et. al., eds. New Geneva Study Bible: New King James Version. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson Pub., 1995), 1599.
4Senior, et. al., NT, 96.
5The term “feeding trough” is used by Bruce Barton, et. al., eds, Life Application Study Bible: New Living Translation. (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Pub., 2004), 1675.
6William Barclay. The Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Luke. (Toronto: G.R. Welch, 1975), 21.
7New Living Translation copyright 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
8New Living Translation copyright 1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
10Whitlock, Jr., et. al., 1605, and Barclay, 22.
11Whitlock, Jr., et. al., 1605.
13Christian Community Bible. (Quezon City, Philppines: Claretian Pub. 1999) NT, 126.