The Christmas story from Luke and Matthew includes many important names—Emperor Augustus, Governor Quirinius, King Herod—the people who run the world, who change people’s lives with the stroke of pen, who order soldiers, and wield power others can barely imagine.
Even the angel Gabriel is named in his essential mission to announce the mission to the soon-to-be Mother of the Messiah. Of course, Mary and Joseph are named as Jesus’ human parents who will raise this Christ child to be named Jesus. But after Jesus is born, wrapped in bands of cloth, and laid in a manger, these specifics drop out—no one else is identified by name.
Who is this angel who appears to the shepherds and tells them good news of a great joy? Is it Gabriel? Michael? Some underling with her first big assignment? And how about the multitude of the heavenly host? Maybe they would like a mention by name in Scripture—even the third grip—whatever that is, gets their name mentioned in movie credits—but the third alto of this heavenly host? Nothing. And what about the shepherds? No names, not even a number of how many there were. And the wise sages from the east?—people of high status themselves—nameless, with not even a mention of their country. We can deduce by the way they watch the stars that they are Zoroastrian priests from Persia—or perhaps from as far as India or the Arabian Peninsula.
Why is the text so specific in the beginning, and then so vague as the story progresses—all these nameless characters—no one in particular shares or receives the news of the Messiah and responds?
Certainly, the Gospel writers want us to know Jesus’ birth took place in a specific time in history. But another answer lies in the angel’s words to the shepherds. This nameless angel says two things that at first sound contradictory. First, she says, “I bring you good news of a great joy for all the people. God’s love in the birth of Jesus is for everyone—it’s all-inclusive.
It’s the same message as other places in Scripture—“for God so loved the world, the cosmos, all people –that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” There are no names, so everyone knows that this message literally includes all people!
But shepherds, who are at the bottom rung of society, usually do not feel included in the “everyone”—in “all the people.” They are like the day laborers today who hang out at the Valero gas station near the High Five hoping a builder will pick them up for work. They are used to being overlooked and shoved aside. All the people often feels like everyone else—those who have a better family, a decent job, people who do not struggle like they do, who have more on the ball, are more worthy, less lonely, more faithful, more sure in their beliefs, who do not feel beaten down by life or like they are flunking in some way. Some days, we all feel like a shepherd—that we are on the outside looking in at all the people God really loves.
So in the next breath, right after the angel says, “I bring you good news of a great joy for all the people,” the angel says, “to you”— to you, shepherds, personally, specifically, “to you is born this day in the city of David, a Savior, who is the Lord, the Messiah.” To you— Tom, Arlene, Kristin, Bill, Gail, …… To you a Savior is born. What do you need from the Savior who is born to YOU this day?
I asked our homebound members this on my visits this month, and one said, “peace,” another said, “to know I am loved,” someone else said, "to become stronger," another said, “to be transported to heaven,” and still another said, “deeper faith.”
The savior is born for everyone yes, and also, the Savior is born to you—the names are dropped so we can put ourselves in the story, and we can hear the angel speaking to us.
And the names are gone, so we can see that there’s a multitude of angels which means there are plenty to go around, including a guardian for each of us.
So, with the shepherds and sages, we can gaze around us, and see God in all things, be it an angelic presence appearing in nature, in the stars, or the shimmering light of love manifest in an infant, a smile, a human connection, a moment of hope.
With the shepherds and the sages, we are always on the journey of faith. Because the Savior is born to us, we live with the joyful expectation that we get to participate in what God is doing in Jesus here and now. All we need to do is bring ourselves because Jesus does, in fact, know you by name.
Unexpected and holy God, your love shines through the ages, making real your presence in our own story in the form of an infant. We rejoice that you sent yourself-- this great gift of hope, peace, joy, and love to all people, to everyone, to the whole world. Open our hearts to receive that you are also born to us, personally. Enable to ask for the saving we need, at this moment, in this time, as you place us in the story of incarnation and salvation with the shepherds and sages. Give us the joyful expectation that we will see your angels, your stars, your light, your love aflame in the world, hidden in plain sight—in the people around us, in your creation, in the faces of those in need, in every act of love. Wrap in bands of healing cloth, those who are sick and suffering in any way, especially those who are lonely or distant from family, and those on our prayer list. Make us faithful and joyful in our journey with Christ as we shine his love, share our gifts, and carry the good news that he is born to all, and to each one. We pray in the name of the Christ child, born to us this day. Let all the faithful, say, Amen.