The Visiting Shepherds — Christmas Mass

Early on the first Christmas Eve, in a field outside of Bethlehem, I imagine one of the shepherds complaining to his companions: “Wouldn’t you know it, we have to work on Christmas!” That’s just a joke, of course. The shepherds near Bethlehem, living in the fields and keeping watch over their flock, had no reason to expect that night would be anything special. Indeed, if not for Jesus’ birth into our world, today would be just another workday and there would be no reason to celebrate. But Jesus did come into our world to save us, and those shepherds were his first invited guests. “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.”

These shepherds would seem to be unlikely guests. Not rich, not powerful, not admired; but poor, dirty, and smelly. They lived apart from the community like outcasts. Shepherds were so little trusted that they could not give testimony in court. And yet, God’s Good News was offered to them. The Emperor Caesar Augustus, whose census brought the Holy Family to Bethlehem, was not given an angelic invitation. Perhaps the Roman Emperor was too proud to receive one; unwilling to admit that he was not a god over anything and that one God deserved his full worship, love, and obedience. But the shepherds were humble, humble enough to listen to the Heaven-sent message and act on it. “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.

The city of Bethlehem is to the south and west of Jerusalem. Bethlehem was only about 5½ miles away from the Jewish Temple, roughly the same direction and distance that St. John the Baptist Church in Cooks Valley is from here. Just as Bethlehem and Jerusalem are situated closely to each other, so Christmas points to Easter. The two are closely linked. It was specifically from Bethlehem’s flocks that sheep were provided to be sacrificed in Jerusalem for the peoples’ sins. In this region, the Lamb of God was born and to this region Jesus would return to die and rise to take away the sins of the world. Mary wrapped her little newborn snugly in swaddling clothes. Mary would later wrap his body in a linen burial shroud. Tradition says Joseph prepared a cave for the place of Jesus’ birth when other accommodations were unavailable. Later, another Joseph would make last-minute arrangements for Jesus to be buried in a rock-hewn tomb. Baby Jesus was born in Bethlehem, a city whose name means “House of Bread.” He was laid in a manger, a feed-box for grain. Later, on the day before he was to suffer, Jesus would take bread in hand and say, “Take this, all of you, and eat of it: for this is my body which will be given up for you.

The shepherds went in haste into Bethlehem and found Mary, Joseph, and the baby Jesus there. “When they saw this, they made known the message that had been told them about this child. … Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, just as it had been told to them.” After Christmas, after that beautiful day, did the shepherds ever come back to visit the Holy Family? I doubt you could find two people more friendly and welcoming than holy Joseph and Mary, but did the shepherds ever take the opportunity to visit them and the Christ Child again? The Magi were soon to travel hundreds of miles to see Jesus just once, but these shepherds lived only a short, walking distance away. Did the shepherds ever take time come back and adore Jesus, to rest and to contemplate what he meant for their lives, to praise and thank the God for his presence in their midst? Did the shepherds ever get to know Mary and Joseph better, these holy saints and friends of God?

If the shepherds had spent a single hour each week in the presence of Christ and his holy family, imagine how it would have improved their daily lives; their work, their relationships, their whole outlook on life? Great graces flow from being close to Jesus. What do you think they should have done? What would you have done? We don’t know whether the shepherds ever came back again after Christmas, but if they didn’t, they really missed out. Living a life with Jesus Christ is better than a life neglecting him.

Christmas is a truly special day, a happy day and rightly so, but a day that points beyond merely itself to Easter and the fullness of Christ’s Gospel, Good News of great joy. For a Savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord. Do not be too proud, do not be too busy, do not be afraid, make the short journeys to visit Jesus here again. Do not feel too unworthy to come, for even shepherds were his first guests. Feel welcome in this his dwelling place and find friends here among his family. Will you come back again after Christmas? I hope you will, but if you don’t, you’re really missing out; because living your life with Jesus Christ is better than life without him.

2 Responses to “The Visiting Shepherds — Christmas Mass”

  1. pussywillowpress Says:

    Nice invitation for return visits :)!

  2. Joyce Uhlir Says:

    This is a really nice Christmas homily. We drive a lot more than 5 1/2 miles to your Masses because they are a treasure. Hopefully those nearby will not squander their opportunity. BTW, our priest is out of the country. Prepare to see a lot of us in January, road conditions permitting. :)

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