Christmas for the outcast.
hat I love about the Christmas story is the way God bucks the trend. Everything about it is countercultural. When he came on his rescue mission, he chose to come as an illegitimate baby born to a teenager from an obscure village in a far flung outpost of the Empire. Not content with that, his mother had to borrow a feeding trough for a cradle because they were on the road and homeless when he was born. Nothing quite like that start in life to give you an outsider’s perspective.
Our Christmas story comes from the little cameos we get in Matthew’s and Luke’s tales of Jesus. And I find them intriguing: because of who was invited to the celebration when the creator became a part of his creation. They didn’t throw him a party at the Palace even when they found out who he was. From the beginning he was seen as a threat to the establishment, both secular and religious.
Foreigners and shepherds are about as low as you could get in the pecking order of the day. Ritually unclean because of their close contact with animals, unwashed because of their outdoor life, shepherds were outsiders, an isolated, fringe community on the edge of society. And foreigners were as popular then as they are now. When the chips are down you stick with your own, whether the threat is economic recession or a Roman army of occupation. And these were astrologers to boot.
Over centuries God called out a people to form a community that was different, based on justice, generosity and welcome. But it is human instinct to cling to your own tribe, to connect with people like yourself and reject those who are different. Israel was all about insiders and outsiders and yet, when their God came to visit, for them he was an outsider. So perhaps it is no surprise that outsiders were the ones Israel’s God invited to share the special moment of his arrival.
There is something of a pattern about that. It was outsiders who welcomed him at his birth and it was an outsider - the Gentile Centurion who executed him - who recognised and honoured him at his death. In his ministry it was the outcasts who were drawn to him, people who felt rejected by society were intrigued and attracted by Jesus. And the reason is clear: there are no insiders and outsiders for God!
The early church wrestled with this: barriers of race, gender, age, culture were painfully dismantled. It is so against our instincts that every generation of the church has had to rediscover this mystery Jesus came to reveal:
God is for everyone: no exceptions, no outcasts, no straight insiders or LGBT outsiders, a celebration of diversity!
Christmas is the best time to remember this. If you feel like an outcast, take heart, because you have always belonged at the heart of the Christmas story, God has made sure of that!