by Father Mike Stubbs
Sometimes, people living on the East Coast or the West Coast of our country refer to Kansas as a flyover state.
That term implies that Kansas does not count for much, that it is simply a barrier to cross in traveling to a place that is worthwhile. Compared to the rest of the country, we appear somewhat obscure.
Similarly, Sunday’s Gospel reading, Lk 2:1-14, points to Jesus’ obscure origins. His parents hail from Nazareth. That town never even merits a mention in the Old Testament.
Later on, the eventual disciple of Jesus will ask the derisive question, “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” (Jn 1:46). Through an accident of history, Jesus is born in the small town of Bethlehem, an apparently insignificant corner of the Roman Empire.
In terms of the Roman Empire, the whole country of Judea would look insignificant. It lacked size, population, economic or political power. If the ancient Romans had had airplanes, they probably would have called it a flyover state.
Nonetheless, it is there that the savior of the world is born: “Today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.”
This tiny infant, from a seemingly unimportant region of the Empire, contrasts with the mighty Roman emperor who is mentioned at the beginning of the Gospel reading: “In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus.”
To the Romans, the town of Bethlehem may have looked inconsequential. But to the Jewish people, it held tremendous historic and religious significance, as the city of David, their greatest king.
The infant born there would take power as King of kings and Lord of lords. He would challenge the power structure of the Roman Empire as a champion of the poor and downtrodden. That is why the angel announces his birth first of all to the “shepherds in that region living in the fields.”
Those shepherds were poorly paid and low on the social totem pole. In our world, we might compare them to fast-food workers or trash collectors. They were not well compensated for their difficult and often messy work.
The news of the birth of this king who would support the shepherds would bring them hope and joy. As the angel tells them, “Behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy.”
This newborn king will live up to the words spoken by his mother before his birth: “He has thrown down the rulers from their thrones but lifted up the lowly. The hungry he has filled with good things; the rich he has sent away” (Lk 1:52-53).