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November 20, 2012

Re-imagining Christmas: Hills men carry God’s message of hope?

by Ronnie Daniel Tue, Nov 20, 2012

The announcement to ordinary and perhaps obscure hills men, first, (Luke 2:8-12), that Jesus had been born, marginalizes not just the birth of Jesus itself, but puts on the periphery of the society all that Jesus would stand for. Luke’s Gospel gives us a glimpse of this as early as in chapter 4, verse 28, when Jesus was driven out of his home town for making unsavoury remarks in the synagogue, above all places, about the religious leadership of his day.{{more}}

The truth is that shepherds were looked down upon. They were considered to be persons of ‘no class’; and were often unable to participate in the Jewish ceremonial laws because the demands of their vocation were just too great. So, to make the announcement to the shepherds of the birth of one expected to be a ‘King’ conjures up a sense and feeling of nothingness; a lowly state, the very opposite of royalty.

To reveal the good news of the birth of Christ to desperate hills men and use them to re-assure Mary and Joseph of the significance of the Christ birth is to upset the configuration of an entire society. To the Jewish hierarchy, Jesus’ birth could not be considered a royal birth. He was born in a stable, of parents of lowly status and without a kingdom. Mark’s Gospel, chapter 6 verse 3 puts it this way: “Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary and the brother of James …? Aren’t his sisters here with us? Jesus’ early rejection by the religious and political leaders is therefore closely linked to his family origin and the lowliness of his birth.

To the simple working class men and women, however, Jesus’ birth brought new hope and joy. This is what the angel said to the hills men, ‘don’t be afraid; I am here to give you good news, great joy for all the people. Today a Saviour has been born to you… He is the Messiah and the Lord. Let this be a sign to you; you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger”. It is precisely this simplicity of birth, this message of humility, devoid of today’s pomp and ceremony, which gives us an insight into how the Christmas story ought to be celebrated by Christians. It is a reshaping of the community from below. It is the unexpected surprise which changes for good, the outcome of a situation.

The joy of Christmas resides not in having plenty, or in glorifying a culture that is obsessed with an unnecessary set of wants that can easily be disposed when our desires change, but in sharing good news in and with the community, those tangible, indispensable virtues of peace, goodwill and love. The shepherds, surprised and springing with a bundle of joy, immediately left their only source of income, made a 70 mile journey to celebrate and share all that they had been told about the birth of Christ, with Mary and Joseph and the rest of the community. This story is the true Christmas story. It is one that summons us to become agents of good news in our communities.

Can you imagine with me, what it would mean if the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition were to, tomorrow, declare in the spirit of reconciliation and peace that their respective political parties would not do anything to encourage or foster hatred, resentment or any form of violence in our nation, but will promote at all times tolerance and peace? Could you imagine what it would mean in the context of world peace and security, if President Obama were to meet with President Ahmadinejah, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Prime Minister Haniya to once and for all settle the question of the Middle East? All that will be good news.