The story begins with the name of the Emperor: Augustus, and the governor: Quirnius, and with people needing to be registered. Then and now we live in a public, political world. Joseph had to travel from where he lived in Nazareth to Bethlehem, the place of his family heritage. We all come from somewhere and are strangers somewhere else. Bethlehem would turn out to be an unwelcoming place for a private birth. Joseph and very pregnant Mary were outsiders. “No room for these people.” So they had to take refuge where they could find it. Where animals were sheltered the very Son of God was born; where the Creator’s animals ate, the baby was laid in a manger.
So dark, so quiet, so private. Yet such public implications for this day. No one is a stranger to God. For the homeless, the refugee, the immigrant, the one unwelcome, the one for whom there is no room, the Good News is that no one is abandoned by God. What is our calling for the one who would be left out in the cold?
How would this very private birth be made public for the world? No newspaper reporters. No television cameras. However, in that region, shepherds had a night job—every night. Who else would watch over their sheep? It was dark until a light brighter than a news flood light, a light which could be described only as, “the glory of the Lord” shone around them. They were terrified! An angel said the same word said to Mary nine months before, “Do not be afraid.” We who live today in a public world filled with great fear are terrified much of the time. The Shepherds did not know what to do with the news of “great joy” that a Savior was born. But they seemed to hear that this news would be for all people. News in a private field for a global world.
They believed what they heard and the multitude of heavenly host who appeared praising God: “Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace. . . ,“ and they went. They went with haste, and they found Mary, Joseph and the child. And they told. They went back to their vocations, their plain work of taking care of sheep, and they also became the first witnesses in the public world of God’s grace present in human form on earth. What is our calling, whatever our vocation, our work in the world, to see and believe, and to hasten to tell everyone about God’s grace and love for all and for peace in the whole, public world?