Archive for the ‘The Shepherds’ Category

Ready for Christ’s Coming? Then & Now

November 26, 2022

1st Sunday of Advent
By Fr. Victor Feltes

Our season of Advent has now begun — a season of Christian preparation. Throughout Advent, we the Church are getting ready in two different respects: we are preparing to celebrate and commemorate the historical birth of Christ at Christmas and, at the same time, we are preparing for the day Jesus will return to this world in unveiled glory. In today’s Gospel, Jesus recalls the story of the days of Noah’s Ark, in which a few were prepared for the flood and saved while most were unprepared and swept away. “So too, you also must be prepared,” Jesus tells us, “for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.” Will we be prepared for the day of Jesus’ return? How well prepared and open were people for Christ’s first arrival and what can their examples teach us?

Local shepherds of Bethlehem were the first to hear of Christ’s birth on Christmas. An angel of the Lord appeared to them and said, “[B]ehold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy… a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord!” Now these shepherds were working, keeping night watch over their flock. They could have claimed they were too busy to accommodate Christ into their schedules. Instead they said, “Let us go… to see this thing… which the Lord has made known to us!” They went in haste and found Mary and Joseph, and their Lord lying in the manger.

Sometime later, word of Christ’s birth came to King Herod in Jerusalem, but he did not welcome this good news into his heart. This man loved to reign in his own domain and did not wish to share control. So the king sent soldiers to kill the children who could be Jesus. King Herod refused to change for Christ.

Where had Herod learned of Christ’s birth? Through Magi from the east who came to Jerusalem in good faith expecting to find the newborn king of the Jews. “We saw his star at its rising,” they said. They came with their gifts to honor him. Now most had missed the important sign from heaven (they were focused on other things) but the Magis’ attentions were not distracted, and based on what they saw, they acted. They too found the Lord amidst his Holy Family.

The examples of the shepherds, King Herod, and the Magi show us ways of either being ready and open for Christ or not. So ask yourself this Advent, will I allow work and responsibilities to crowd out my time for Jesus, or will I be like the shepherds who came to him and his Holy Family with joy? Will I cling to my own control, my wealth and my sinful pleasures like King Herod did, or will I offer and sacrifice these things to Christ? Will be distracted by the many diversions of this world and overlook what really matters, or will I be attentive like the Magi to act for the Lord?

At the start of this Advent season, St. Paul tells us, “You know the time; it is now the hour for you to awake from sleep. For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed; the night is advanced, the day is at hand.” Let us prepare to celebrate and commemorate the historical birth of Christ at Christmas, while at the same time preparing for the day Jesus will return to this world in unveiled glory.

Learning from the Angels

December 24, 2021

Christmas, the Nativity of the Lord

It can be an alarming experience to encounter an angel. Their presence is typically veiled to us but once revealed to our human perception angels radiate such mightiness, holiness, and otherworldliness, that often the first thing they say upon appearing is: “Do not be afraid.” So it was on the first Christmas night in the fields outside the little town of Bethlehem where the shepherds kept watch over their flock.

A heavenly angel appeared to them, the Lord’s glory shone around them, and the shepherds were utterly terrified. But the herald angel said, “Do not be afraid… I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. …Today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Christ and Lord.” The angel then gave them a sign to look for, to know that they had found the newborn king: “You will find an infant wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” Suddenly, a whole multitude of angels appeared, praising God and saying: “Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests!” When the angels departed the shepherds were seemingly alone once more in the dark and quiet field.

Like the gospel two weeks ago about St. John the Baptist’s preaching, what strikes me about the angels’ proclamation is what the shepherds are not told to do. The Holy Family was very poor, but the shepherds are not told to bring them coins. The cave-stable in which Jesus laid was probably dirty like a barn, but the shepherds are not told to bring him a broom or clean blankets. Jesus’ parents had had a long day, but the shepherds are not told to bring them a meal. Any of these things would have been good gifts, but none of them were the most important thing. The angels invited the shepherds to bring themselves to Jesus; to approach him, see him, know him, love him, honor him; to come and encounter him, to come and adore him. This is the greatest gift.

Jesus Christ had only just been born on earth but the angels had already met the eternal Son of God in heaven. Through him all things were made, including the angels. The angels knew him from the start of their existence and in highest heaven they adored him constantly beholding his unveiled glory. In this, the angels seem to have an advantage compared to us. We see God’s creations, but they see the Craftsman. We see his effects, but they see the Source. We see his works which reflect his glory, but they see his glory directly. At Jesus’ birth, we see the Godhead veiled in flesh, lying in the manger. At his Holy Mass, we see Jesus Christ in the Eucharist, veiled in the appearances of bread and wine. Every good and beautiful thing you have ever enjoyed has its existence from him who is the most real, the most delightful, the greatest and best of all. And yet, for us human beings, God is easy to overlook.

If an angel had not visited the shepherds they would not have realized that they were within walking distance of their Savior, Messiah, and Lord. But once the angels had proclaimed the message and went away from them to heaven, the shepherds turned and said to one another, “Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us!” The shepherds left in haste, but imagine if… they had chosen not to go. The shepherds could have chosen not to go into Bethlehem. Nobody was forcing them to visit the Holy Family. They could have ignored Jesus and stayed away from him. Many people do.

The angels, in their beginning, once faced a choice like this themselves: would they love and adore and serve the Lord or would they disregard him, rejecting him and his reign? Would they love him or not? Would they worship God or themselves? The spirits who chose well are called the angels. The spirits who chose badly are called the demons. Ever since that decisive decision, the angels have loved and worshipped the Lord and been rightly ordered and thriving in his will, while the demons who refused to love and worship him have been disordered and depraved through and through.

Worship and love are linked. We worship what we love most, and that impacts our relationships to other things for good or ill. Imagine a child on Christmas morning who excitedly unwraps a new and coveted toy which, for a while, they love more than anything on earth. Will they remember to thank Mom and Dad who gifted it, or be too distracted to show gratitude? Will they be willing to share the toy with their brothers and sisters, or resent and fight against anyone who wants it? Will they draw closer to their family, or isolate to be alone with their most precious possession? Will they be delighted by that toy forever, or feel disappointment when it does not provide happiness unending? As adults, our coveted toys, our disordered loves, take different forms but lead to similar results. To love God as our greatest good and worship him with thanksgiving, praise, and openness to grace, are essential for us to love him and people and things like we should.

For the first Christmas, the angels’ gift to Jesus Christ was worship: “Glory to God in the highest!” And the angels’ gift to the human race was an invitation for us to do the same. As God’s messenger to you this sacred day, I invite and urge you to return to this church soon to faithfully encounter and adore your Savior, Christ, and Lord.

Treasure the Gift — Christmas Mass at Midnight

December 26, 2009

It’s Christmas, and today we hear one of the most familiar passages in the Gospel, the nativity scene in Bethlehem.  Is there anything that we can learn out of such a familiar text?  Yes, very much indeed. For example, have you ever wondered: what are swaddling clothes anyways?  ‘Mary wrapped her Son in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger.’

When I was young I thought swaddling clothes were just dirty pajamas, but in fact swaddling refers to an ancient custom. They would use tightly bound cloths to wrap-in an infants’ arms and legs to their bodies (they thought this was important for promoting proper posture.) This practice was called “swaddling.” Was it cruel to confine the babies like this? No, the babies liked this. It reminded them of their many months, warm and snug, within their mothers’ wombs. Another thing I’ve learned since the time I was a kid was what a manger really was.  A manger is not a stable. It’s a feeding trough.  Mary wrapped Jesus up in swaddling clothes and laid him in a feeding trough.

Even if you knew all that stuff before, there remains the question of why St. Luke included these details in his Gospel. Why is it important?  Not only does it show the poverty and humility of the Christ, it also points to Jesus’ future. This is not the last time that His mother would wrap Him in tight cloths and lay His body down. And baby Jesus is laid in a feeding trough because when He is grown He will say to His disciples, as you will her Him say to you here, “Take this, all of you, and eat it. This is my body which will be given up for you.” The swaddling cloths point to Jesus burial cloth, and laying in the manger points to His Eucharist, where which He offers us His whole self, His body, blood, soul, and divinity as food.

So you see, whether we are a talking about the Sacred Scriptures, prayer, the sacraments, the teachings of Christ’s Bride (our Mother, the Church,)  our Catholic faith is not a half-cut orange whose richness you can drain out with one or two squeezes and then toss away. A lifetime of discovery will not exhaust what all that our Catholic Faith contains.

When I was a kid I might have looked at this manger scene and though that some people were missing.  “Where are the Magi, the wise men (or astrologers) from the East?”  They’re over there, hiding among the poinsettias. Maybe they are journeying through the forests, or maybe they haven’t even left home yet, but one thing we do know is that they were not there on Christmas night.  When they arrive in Jerusalem they ask King Herod, “Where is the newborn king of the Jews?” Days, weeks, or even months have passed since Christmas, and when they do arrive in Bethlehem they do not find Jesus, Mary and Joseph living in a stable or a cave, but in a house.

So who was there that first Christmas night? The shepherds were there. The angel said to them in the fields, ‘I declare to you news of great joy! A savior who is Christ and Lord is born for you in Bethlehem.  You will find Him wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” The shepherds look at each other and say, “Hey, we’ve gotta check this out.” Who wouldn’t turn out for that first Christmas after an angelic invitation like that?

The shepherds came to the stable and find the infant Christ just as the angel described. From there, Luke’s Gospel says, they returned rejoicing and spread the word about what had happened to all. The shepherds probably knew everybody from Bethlehem, since they were locals (“from that region”) and within walking distance from the stable.

Yet there is a question which I would like us to consider, a question which the Gospels do not answer, and it is this: After that first Christmas, did the shepherds ever come back to visit the Holy Family again? I doubt you could find two people more friendly and welcoming than Joseph and Mary, so I sure that any guest was welcome in their home, but did the shepherds ever take the opportunity to visit them again? The Magi had to travel hundreds of miles just to see Jesus once, but the shepherds were only a short distance away. 

Did the shepherds ever get to know Mary and Joseph better, these two holy saints of God? Did they ever take time come back to adore Jesus, to consider what the birth of this Child meant for their lives, and to praise and thank God for all the blessings they had received? If they had merely spent a single hour each week in the Christ child’s presence, imagine what difference it would have made for their relationships, their work, and their lives in general? We don’t know whether the shepherds ever came back again after that first Christmas, but if they didn’t, then they were foolish and they really missed out.

This Christmas Jesus Christ invites you come back and see Him again, to visit this house of Joseph and Mary, where He is always present to be adored. He wants to bless you through His saints, His teachings, His sacraments, and His Real Presence here, the whole year round. You may be receiving many gifts this Christmas, but make sure that you do not return this one.