“This will be a sign for you,” the angel tells the frightened shepherds. “You will find the child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in [a feeding trough, called,] a manger.”
Out in the shepherd’s fields the angel is suddenly joined by a heavenly host of angels, and, beaming down in the wilderness, the glory of the Lord shone around them. In that enlightened moment, the Shepherds, and even the sheep, are more aware of God’s presence – and present to the world – than Augustus is! Jesus will occupy the whole world, animal kingdom and all, everyone and everything.
For Jesus is not king like the rulers in Rome. Jesus will rescue even one sheep who strays away from the 99, so that none are lost. Jesus is born with the 99%. Why would… Emperor Augustus, or Governor Quirinius, be aware of a child born in a manger in Bethlehem? Who cares?
The handlers, and campaign managers, the Vice-Presidents of Development and Public Relations, working day and night to keep Augustus, or, Wall Street for that matter, happy and in power, were not looking in backwaters like Bethlehem for the next contender or politico, the next protestor or prophet. The shepherds “keeping watch over their flock by night” weren’t on their list of contributors that they kept in their breast-pocket, just on their list of outcasts: poor, unwashed, dreamers.
So, feathering their own nests and hob-knobbing with the rich and famous, they missed the chorus: “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among people of divine favor.” Dreamers! Likely story! Yet Jesus was born, occupying his rightful place in the world – a manger.
Occupy Wall Street came into our lives this Fall. Born of some illegitimate step parent, occupying a city park that turned out to be private property. And yet, in the beginning, no one noticed as they slept there. Banging their drums by daylight, the 1% barely batted an eye. Unwashed, unemployed, dreamers! But quickly the slogan, ‘we are the 99%,’ began to catch on, all across the country. People recognized that something had been born into our world: a hope, an answered prayer, an understanding that things have gotten enough out of control, and needed to be put right again. A gift had been unwrapped, beyond politics, and certainly beyond politicians. There is a 1% that’s taken control of more and more of democracy’s decisions, and they don’t seem to care who we are, or what our lives are like.
It may be hard for anyone, including us Christmas worshipers, to love the shepherds. But their message, when it comes from a heavenly host, cannot be denied: after seeing the child lying in the manger, “The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God” and “they made known what had been told them” and what they saw with their own eyes, “about this child.”
It’s the message, not the messenger! Jesus came as an outcast, born of a virgin, an unwed mother, born in a feeding trough, a manger, surrounded by an entourage of lowly shepherds. Jesus remained poor, unwelcome by those learned scholars he regularly outwitted, and the priests he eagerly spoke the truth to about their hypocrisy. Jesus was called a friend of sinners and tax collectors. He was a stumbling block to insiders, the stone the builders rejected.
Yet, we love this story! We welcome the message of Jesus love, and ponder it in our hearts! Jesus came to occupy the whole world, not by force, as kings do to countries, not by the nepotism of religious privilege as priests do, or by the economic exclusion of financial systems as the 1% have. Jesus came to occupy a manger as an innocent baby, to be baptized in a river by John and anointed with the Holy Spirit, to be led out into the desert, standing up for us to the forces of evil, to heal and make whole the lowly, the 99, and to be lifted triumphantly on the cross for our salvation, obedient to God, who lifted him up from the grave.
Jesus’ occupation has many Titles: Savior, Prince of Peace, Healer, Wonderful Counselor, Deliverer, the Bread of Life, Redeemer, the King of kings. He comes to occupy his rightful place in our world – to occupy our lives and our spirits with his Holy Spirit.
We love this story! And with the outcast shepherds, and all the 99%, God sends us out again to live our lives as a people, occupied by the Messiah, the Lord, with joy and thanksgiving.