The first time I remember hearing about outcasts was in literature class in high school, when I was introduced to Bret Harte’s “The Outcasts of Poker Flat.” The story and the author intrigued me because of the story line and because the author’s first name, “Bret,” was similar to mine. Then after reading the short story, I was captivated even more because some of the characters had surprising qualities that you would not have expected when first introduced to them.
Years later, while preparing a Christmas sermon, I was researching information about shepherds and was once again confronted with “outcasts.” The Broadman Bible Commentary states, “The simple pastors of sheep belonged to the people of the land; that multitude of common men who were considered too outside the pale of religious respectability.” Yet these were the ones to whom God sent His message that a Savior had been born in Bethlehem. These outcasts heard this announcement first, even before all the respectable people living in Bethlehem and Jerusalem. I decided that I would look a little deeper into the Christmas story, with the idea of outcasts being a marker for identity of such people. I discovered that the shepherds were not the only ones.
Mary became an outcast through her obedience. She was told by the angel Gabriel that she was “highly favored among women” and that she would conceive by the Holy Spirit and give birth to the Savior. She wasn’t married, but she was engaged to be married to Joseph. This would cause great embarrassment to her and her family, making her an outcast in the town of Nazareth.
Joseph became an outcast because of his character. The Bible says that Joseph was a just man. He was not going through with the wedding, but he was going to end the arranged marriage privately, because he did not want Mary to be publicly shamed. When God revealed to him in a dream that Mary’s pregnancy was just as she had told him, he awoke and made arrangements for this marriage to take place (I believe with delight). Now the suspicion was back on Joseph that he had broken God’s law or that he was a fool to take Mary to be his wife. He was an outcast to the whole town.
The shepherds were outcasts simply because of their vocation. They had one of the most important jobs in all of the land, but yet they were seen as outcasts from the religious society that had grown corrupt with all their additions to the Word of God. Some have speculated that these shepherds were the ones who kept watch over the sheep that would be sacrificed on the altar of the Temple, yet they were considered unfit to worship with the respectable people of the community.
Praise the Lord, Jesus came so that He could rescue the outcasts. Just remember; He forgave the “woman caught in the act of adultery,” He went home to eat a meal with the tax collector, Zacchaeus, He not only healed lepers, he touched them, He told the repentant thief on the cross, “Today, you will be with me in Paradise.” All were outcasts.
Let me end by reminding you that we are all outcasts because of our sin. The Bible lets us know “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” In other words, we are outcasts, but Praise God, He came to deliver us from sin and death. Alleluia, what a Savior!