On Christmas We Identify With the Shepherds – the First to Hear the “Good News!”

Christian-Christmas- Nativity 2014The Shepherds are the blank pages of the Christmas story. All around them are people, places and things with names of obvious symbolic radiance – Mary, Joseph, Herod, Caesar, Bethlehem, angles, the magi, even a mysterious star. The shepherds, by contrast, are unnamed and unnumbered. We don’t know whether there were two or twenty, where they came from or where they went.

So why should shepherds be the first to hear the “good news for all the people” on that first Christmas morning?

Shepherds were the commoners, the lowly, the poor, the outcast of the Palestinian society. They were not the serene figures we image as being peaceful and gentle as the lambs they tended. In reality, the shepherds were tough, earthy characters, who fearlessly swung their clubs against poachers and wolves. Shepherding was not a job for the light of heart or easy-going of disposition. They contended with the wildest of animals and the worst of weather. The pompous Pharisees and scribes regarded shepherds as a disreputable and untrustworthy lot of rustics; they considered them to be second and third class citizens and were barred from Jewish courts of law and synagogues.

The shepherds were the working poor. Working the night shift. While the magi bring gifts of gold and spices; the shepherds might have shared a few eggs and pieces of mutton. The learned might understand the deep theological, historical magnitude of this birth; the shepherds were caught up in the wonder and joy of it all.

The shepherds represent the ordinary person in everyday life – albeit at life’s harder edges. Yes, the shepherds represent you and me!

It was to simple shepherds rather than to the powerful that God reveals the birth of His Son, humanity’s Savior. The Savior who would portray himself as the “Good Shepherd” whose love and compassion for humanity would know neither end nor limitation. As we celebrate Christmas 2017, may we possess the simple hearts of the Bethlehem shepherds to hear and embrace the good news of Jesus’ birth. May we possess the spirit of humility that enables us to rejoice in the wondrous love of our God revealed to us on Christmas!

As we anticipate the celebration of Christmas it might be good for all of us to prayerfully reflect on the words of Pope Francis as he blessed the figurines of Baby Jesus that children from Rome brought to Saint Peter’s Square this past Sunday. “On this Third Sunday of Advent, called the ‘Sunday of Joy,’ the scriptures invite us to prepare for the coming of the Lord by assuming three attitudes – constant joy, preserving prayer, and constant thanksgiving.” Francis then explained joy in this way – “It means to be always in joy, even when things don’t go according to our desires, when there are anxieties, difficulties and sufferings. Jesus came to earth to give back to humanity the dignity and freedom of the children of God, which only He can communicate, and to give joy.”

The second attitude that we must have, he continued, is praying constantly. “Through prayer, we can enter a stable relationship with God, who is the source of true joy. A Christian’s joy is not purchased, it can’t be bought, it comes from faith and from the encounter with Jesus Christ, the reason for our happiness. And the more we are rooted in Christ, the closer we are to Jesus, the more we discover interior serenity, even in the midst of daily contradictions.”

The third attitude Pope Francis pointed out is constant thanksgiving, namely, grateful love in our relationship with God. He told the crowd in Saint Peter’s Square, “In fact, God is very generous with us, and we are invited to be grateful always for His benefits, His merciful love, His patience and kindness, thus living in incessant gratitude.”

Joy, prayer and gratitude, the Holy Father said, are three attitudes that prepare us to live Christmas genuinely.

After praying the Angelus, Pope Francis affectionately greeted the children that came for the blessing of the “Baby Jesus” from the crèche in their home. And then he gave them the following advice, that I think is good for you and me: “When you pray at home, before the crèche with members of your family, let yourselves be drawn by the tenderness of Baby Jesus, born poor and frail in our midst, to give us His love. This is the true Christmas. If we take Jesus away, what remains of Christmas? An empty celebration. Don’t take Jesus away from Christmas! Jesus is the center of Christmas; Jesus is the true Christmas! Understood?”

Let us always remain close to Jesus and rely on his strength to persevere with hope and joy.

Please remember that the doors of Saint John Bosco are always wide open – and you are most welcome to join us for Christmas Eve Mass at 4:00 pm, 6:00 pm or 10:30 pm – or for Christmas Morning Mass at 8:30 am or 11:00 am. The parishioners of Saint John Bosco Parish and I would love to have you join us for Mass – and, of course, the beautiful music of Christmas! Please, come and celebrate the “wonder,” the “mystery,” and the “joy” of Christmas with us.

A Blessed and Merry Christmas!

Reflection – Read over Luke’s Gospel account of the Nativity (Luke 2:1-20). Have you ever identified with the shepherds? How does Pope Francis’ invitation to embrace Christmas with joy, prayer and gratitude help you celebrate Christmas this year?


December 20th, 2017 |