And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” –Luke 2:8-12
Outside. We all know what it means, what it entails. Outsides and insides are a part of life, a part of us. Our skin separates our insides from our outside, separating our selves from one another. The walls of our homes separate us from the weather and temperatures and danger. Membership and regulations separate those who are involved in an organization and those who are not. The barriers between outside and inside serve good purposes; they serve as a means of protection, guarding one from the other, keeping what’s valuable safe.
Outsides feel good—until it’s us who’s on the outside.
In 1st century Israel, shepherds were among those on the outside—of society, of the economy, of religion. Shepherds were not cute little boys in Christmas pageants tending to fluffy balls of wool but rather had an unpleasant reputation among those around them. Most were hired hands, known for dishonesty, shrewdness, and thieving as they let their sheep graze on other people’s land and even sometimes stole and made money on some from their flock.
Pious Jews were reminded never to buy any wool, milk, or other items directly from shepherds, in fear that they were stolen products. Shepherds were looked down upon for missing religious observances and festivals and were banned from being witnesses in courts and from holding office. Most of society was happy they spent most of their lives outside the towns so they didn’t have to think about them.
Yet, these outsiders were exactly the first whom God chose to invite to Jesus’ birthday party.
An Invitation to Party
Almost everyone inside the little town of Bethlehem missed the birth of their messiah. They went about their daily lives, came together with their families, and observed their religious rites as they always did. But they did not catch sight of the little band of shepherds as they hiked from the fields, from the outside to the inside of the town, to Joseph’s parents’ stable that holy night.
God flipped religion upside down; the insiders became outsiders and the outsiders became insiders as the shepherds’ tired eyes rested on the Christ Child that evening. The ones invited to God’s party were those the priests would have scoffed at for coming to worship twice a year.
Name Your Outsider
In your corner of the world, who is an outsider? Who have you been protecting yourself from? Who have you written off? Is it you?
The good news is that our Savior comes for the outsiders. He comes for those of us who are on the outside, those who have been striving to fit in, and those who have given up on trying. He inspires those of us who consider ourselves “insiders” to open our doors and to go out into the fields. It is there where the invitation comes. It is there where God announces the good news.
Kris Beckert is a Mission Strategist/Trainer with Fresh Expressions US. She serves as Pastor of Innovation and Multiplication at Salem Fields Community Church in Fredericksburg, Virginia.