In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. (Luke 2.8)
God’s angel sends Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem—the legendary City of David—to deliver the Christ Child to the world. And then, from the looks of it, the angel forgets to alert anyone in David’s town that their Savior is born. How is that? Surely there are much-admired Bethlehemers (or is it Bethlehamians?) who should be on God’s guest list. Surely someone in the village is praying and waiting and watching for the promised Redeemer.
But no. In what would become a constant theme in Christ’s life and ministry, God beckons outsiders to witness the ultimate miracle of grace. Angels find shepherds in the region—near enough to summon, but far enough away to see God’s work for what it means for all people, rather than what it might indicate for insiders, if insider status qualified one to sit manger-side. This God made flesh is, and will always be, full of surprises—one of the most befuddling of which is God’s unpredictable election of the least likely candidates for the most crucial jobs. A teenaged couple from Nazareth, a village so low on the “Best Places to Live in Palestine” list that people dismiss it as nowhere anything good can came from. An anonymous stable owner—not a renowned priest, politician, or hotelier. And a night crew of shepherds who just happen to be nearby.
Indeed, the few “insiders” found in the Christ Child’s story are almost comically out of touch with what God is up to. Herod can’t figure out what’s going on. His counselors are no better. Apparently no one of notable power and prestige in Bethlehem is any wiser than the Jerusalem set. Jesus sneaks in under the radar—arrives without “insider” notice and fanfare—and instead, God chooses outsiders to welcome the Babe. They are all close enough, alert enough, willing enough to experience and believe this lavish display of grace bundled in rags and resting in a hay bed. But not one of them is “inside.” Not one of them has any credibility with the religious and political establishment. Not one of them plans to make a career out of what they’ve discovered. They’re simply open to believe and share what God has chosen them to see, hear, and touch. They are now inside something so great that they will forever be identified with it.
So stay close to Bethlehem. Be alert to what’s taking shape there. Be willing to experience and believe—to see, to hear, to touch. This is not meant for insiders. It’s for everyone who will take God’s Good News to heart.