On one hand there is Ceasar Augustus, the Roman Emperor who at that time is believed to be god-incarnate ruling over the known world under Pax Romana. Conquering lands and exerting military might that they may be subjugated to the uneasy peace under the Empire. On the other are the shepherds: nomadic wanderers tending to livestock that heed the angelic proclamation of the messiah's arrival, who after coming into an encounter with the Christ-child return to their lot rejoicing.
Here we see the startling contrast of how God's gracious condescension breaks into history with his arrival at the height of the Empire's power, choosing to arrive through a human family of middle eastern peasants and the company of livestock with no one but shepherds to call as guests of honors in a marginal town in Roman Judea.
In that little town of Bethlehem we come face-to-face with a God who takes sides and favors the company of the poor and the lowly. Veiled in the fragility of an infant Jesus, the Immanuel reveals himself in a back-alley manger to an unwed teenage peasant couple, livestock and herdsmen. Brought forth in frail humanity, the king of kings and the lord of lords enters history with the message that true power lies in our willful relinquishing of it for the sake of the Other.
The story of Christmas bids us to take the side of the lowly and to be open and vulnerable for it is the vessel upon which we can encounter the divine and live up to Jesus' edict to care care for “the least of these”(Mt. 25:40), and come out of the ordeal as the shepherds glorifying and praising God for all the things we had heard and seen.