THE SHEPHERDS LEAD THE WAY
SUNDAY, SOLEMNITY OF THE NATIVITY OF THE LORD (CHRISTMAS)
Reading 1: Is 9:1-7 This reading looks forward to the coming of a Saviour-child who will rescue his people from darkness and oppression, and enable them to live in security and peace.
Reading 2: Tit 2:11-14 St Paul reminds us of what is expected of us if we are to enjoy the salvation won for us by Christ.
Gospel: Lk 2:1-14 This tells about the birth of Christ our Saviour in a manger and how the glad news of his birth was brought by angels to simple shepherds.
Mass at Dawn
Reading 1: Is 62:11-12 With the birth of our Lord the Christian people can taste the joy of the exiles returning from Babylon.
Reading 2: Tit 3:4-7 We ourselves did nothing to merit the birth of Christ; rather, God sent his Son out of compassion for us.
Gospel: Lk 2:15-20 With Mary we are invited to ponder on the deep meaning of the birth of Christ so that, with the shepherds, we may be moved to glorify and praise God.
Mass during the Day
Reading 1: Is 52:7-10 This great hymn of exultation at the return of the exiles from Babylon is also a poem of joy for our redemption.
Reading 2: Heb 1:1-6 This whole history of God’s dealings with his people in the past was a preparation for the coming of his Son at a particular moment in history.
Gospel: Jn 1:1-18 This is a great hymn to the Word of God, the source of all life, whose coming among us makes us children of God.
“Hear the merry Christmas bells, sounding o’er the hills and dells; men rejoice, and angels sing ‘Tis the birthday of our King.’” Some of those who sang this carol last Christmas may not be alive this year, because of the pandemic. As we know, the sound of the bells serves to announce good tidings; at Christmas, they proclaim the arrival of the Saviour. But for the past year these very bells have fallen silent. May they ring out once again, for the Saviour is born, and the joy that he brings can never be extinguished by any suffering or worldly trial.
“Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened which the Lord has made known to us.” The shepherds wanted to go immediately and see for themselves what the angel had proclaimed to them. And that is what they did: they did not keep reasoning and questioning and discussing about the veracity or the possibility of this great phenomenon. They just believed and went to look for the ‘divine babe’. Isn’t it the Holy Spirit at work? Rustic and uneducated as they were, humble enough to heed this divine inspiration without question or hesitation. Only a humble disposition seeks, accepts, welcomes and believes. Then, the shepherds just repeated what they had heard and seen about the Christ. That’s all that witnessing is; out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.
Shepherds were despised people. They were suspected of not being very careful to distinguish ‘mine’ from ‘thine’; for this reason, too, they were debarred from giving evidence in court. They would be looked down upon by their own countrymen. Furthermore, they were also considered as irreligious, because of their rustic and sometimes, insincere ways. Yet, we find the angel proclaiming to them, “I bring you news of great joy” (Lk 2:10). It wouldn’t be news of great joy to them, if they didn’t already have a sincere desire in their hearts for the promised Messiah.
Their haste to the place of Christ’s birth stands as a testimony to their spiritual preparedness and eagerness for the coming of Messiah. They were able to accept him even though he was in swaddling clothes lying in a not-so-majestic “crib.” For, they had already accepted wholeheartedly the angel’s message: “you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger.” And so, the two most pathetic factors in the birth of our Lord, his “swaddling clothes” and his “cattle-feeding trough bed,” prove to be the very things which set this child apart from all others, and which identify him to the shepherds. These two symbols not only identify the King of Kings, but also the Messiah in this little Babe.
Mary and Joseph must have been greatly surprised by the shepherds’ arrival and by the report they shared of the angelic announcement and choir. While all who heard this report wondered, Mary “treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart.” She treasured the testimony of the shepherds, the despised of society. Then again, if Jesus came to bring salvation and deliverance to the poor, the oppressed, and the despised of this world, why shouldn’t his coming itself be announced by means of the despised and rejected?
Shepherds, by their very occupation, were ever watchful of their fold, spending sleepless nights for the sake of the safety of their flock. They were ready to risk life and limb to find the sheep gone astray. Therefore, God chose them to be the first messengers to proclaim the birth of his son – the alert, watchful and life-giving ones of society. We too are called to be such messengers, not just by words but by life witness.
Finally, we learn from the Nativity story, that God’s purposes are often achieved through suffering, and that these purposes are not often immediately apparent. However, let us never forget, and be consoled, that all of our suffering, inconvenience, and discomfort, can be occasions of encounter with Jesus, the saviour of our lives. Let us hurry therefore in search of this little babe of Bethlehem, sounding the bells once again to testify to the joy within despite the darkness without!
Responsorial Psalm: Ps 97:1,6,11-12 A Light will shine on us this day; The Lord is born for us.
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