The rabbis of the time just before Jesus had a problem. Jewish people were told to tithe everything they had – a tenth of their goods and income was to be given to the Temple. But when did bread become, well, not bread? When was it too stale or mouldy to be counted as edible and therefore needing to be tithed?
Well, they decided that at the point where the lowest of the low couldn’t be expected to eat it, that was when it didn’t need to be tithed any more. And so they decreed that if it was too far gone for even a shepherd to eat it, then it didn’t need to be tithed. A shepherd. You see, at that time shepherds were the lowest of the low, the marginalised and outcast. I was trying to think of an equivalent for our times….
And yet here is Luke – rich, educated Dr Luke - telling a story of the nativity, where shepherds are some of the central characters. The Scriptures had said that a Messiah, an anointed one, would come, but the imagery was of kingship – authority, a throne, a great light, his kingdom established. No one was expecting the Messiah to be born to an ordinary girl in a backwater of the Empire.
And yet after Jesus’ resurrection everything had to be rethought. God had intervened into history and completed mucked up the laws of physics. Suddenly the Scriptures did make sense, but not in the way that had been expected. There was a kingdom, but it didn’t equate to gold or riches. Jesus had pointed to a God who valued all of humanity equally. The early Church quickly realised that this act of reconciliation between God and man was open to everyone, not just those Jews who kept the Law.
And so that same message of reconciliation comes to us. God who intervened so decisively in human history is the same today as then. The laws of physics, which we feel so bound by are the finest thread for God. We are part of that journey of discovery, guided by the Scriptures, which point towards a renewal of life in this world and something beyond death. And I am sure that like those who lived two thousand years ago, we will discover that Scripture will be fulfilled, but not in the way we have expected.
But for today, today is the time to celebrate. Because we can look back with Luke and know that this baby is special. This is God incarnate, the splendour and majesty and power of God, willingly constrained within a dependent, fragile baby. The laws of physics broken yet again. This is our God.
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