The birth narrative is formed by two groups of people who are informed of the birth of Jesus and who go and visit the baby. One of the groups as seen in St. Luke 2 are the shepherds. They are fearful of the angel but get back their moorings to move on guided by the star. From childhood, I have listened to many sermons with the theme of the poor, helpless shepherds who were informed of the birth of Jesus. There is a connection with the poverty of the shepherds and the birth of Jesus. But the connection made usually is that the poor shepherds heard something in their helplessness and also made the journey to see Jesus in that helplessness. The poor and the helpless thus become a popular theme for the church during the birth narrative.
Is this the only way we can look at the narrative? The shepherds who were informed about the birth were also perhaps shepherds who were taking care of special sheep which were meant for the temple and therefore were also taken care of in a special way, wrapped in cloth and kept in the rock openings, just like Jesus was. The sheep were no ordinary sheep and Jesus was no ordinary baby. The shepherds were waiting for long, tending to what they had. The angel informs them that the time to express themselves has come and the one they were waiting for has also come. The ordinariness of the shepherds is busted!
The movie Kabali, a Tamil movie starring Rajinikanth, was made for a commercial market. But there is one thing that runs through the movie. The breaking of the ordinariness by the character in the movie makes him tell his oppressors that he is not bowing down one bit but he is as strong as he left. The shepherds are not ordinary people who just kept listening to whoever and whatever. They preferred to do what they were doing because they felt it was big. They did not bow down to anyone but preferred to look up at the star.
The song Kabali in the movie has lyrics worth looking into.Karunaiyai maru, Kavalaigaiyai aru
Idayathul oru, Iruukam varu poru
Say no to sympathyies, forget your worries
In your heart, there will be uneasiness, but hold on
Yaavum inge, maayam maayam
Un veeram endrum, seeri paayum
Nam desam engum rosham yerum
Oru varthai kooda, pudu matram kaanum
Everything here is maya, maya
Your strength will tear out and pounce
Our nation’s pride will increase world over
Even one word can bring new change
The Rajini dialogue Na vandhuttenu sollu, thirumbi vanduttennu, 25 varshattuku munnala epidi ponaro, Kabali apidiye thirumbi vanduttannu sollu.. kabali da.. is a way of saying that people who are perceived as ordinary are not, but are rather strong and can be who they want to be and stand for people. “Tell them I have come, that I have come back… Kabali is back the same way he went away 25 years ago, tell them I am back!! This forceful dialogue brings us back to the shepherds and who they were. It is easy to brand people as outcasts and keep them there. The shepherds are all pumped up and racing to see their savior. It is not just their savior but them also saying that “Look, here we are.”
The birth narrative of Jesus is not surrender to anyone or anything. It goes beyond all dispensations and cannot be chained down. Those who are associated with the narrative, especially the shepherds, are also not to be looked down upon but form a part of the formidable force of salvation to the world. The birth of Jesus as seen by the shepherds in this way is a strong rebuttal of societal wrongs and a reminder to those who brand people poor and illiterate that the poor form the backbone of salvation and therefore it is they that celebrate the birth of Jesus because it is not just a celebration but an announcement, a comeback and a looking forward.
"Glory to God in the highest heaven and on earth peace be upon whom he favours."