The Christmas story is not just about the birth of a very good man. As it’s been read and understood across the centuries, it’s a story about God deciding that he “belongs” with human beings — all human beings, but especially the ones who most readily feel left out. We all recognise the shepherds and the wise men around the crib — but we don’t so often recognise that shepherds in those days were not cuddly figures of folklore; they were listed among the classes of people who couldn’t be expected to keep their religious obligations properly and were likely to be a bit threatening to town dwellers. And the wise men are magicians or astrologers, slightly fishy figures from the point of view of a strictly religious Jew of that age, not part of the Chosen People.
In other words, when God turns up in the shape of a human life, he doesn’t go to the obvious people, the religious or the respectable. He heads for the edges of society, as if to say “You’re not forgotten” to those most likely to feel like outsiders.
And Jesus in his adult life does just this again and again — which means that those who seek to live as friends and followers of Jesus must also be ready to be found in the company of people who fear that there’s no one there to speak with them or for them. Their job is to create a sense of belonging, a trust that there is always someone who has a stake in the well-being of even the most troubled and troublesome — someone for whom it matters desperately that they are cared for, rescued from destructive and self-destructive lives, given a hearing and an opportunity.