In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see– I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace among those whom he favors!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.” So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. Luke 2: 8-19.
Reading Luke’s gospel, we find ourselves awe-struck by the events unfolding here: heaven and earth have intersected, they have collided, in this desolate, remote little place. When locating his entry into human history, God chose neither Rome (the headquarters of the world’s superpower) nor Jerusalem (the seat of religious authority).
This isn’t just an “out-of-the-way” little spot; the manger is decidedly uncomfortable. The text makes that clear, noting that there was no room at the inn, and they found their place among the animals. In no small way, the Holy Family’s rejection by the world (“no room at the inn”), foreshadows and points us toward the Cross, where Jesus is again rejected by the world.
Similarly, the angels announce Jesus’ entry into human history to a meager group of shepherds. The angels announce this collision of heaven and earth to those who are poor, anonymous, not especially important or powerful, and probably misfits in the world. Curiously, God’s makes Himself present first to those who just don’t seem to matter very much to anyone but the Lord of Heaven.
The angels told these shepherds, men camouflaged by their obscurity, that the Messiah, their savior and ours, lay in a manger among the beasts of the earth. They ran to spread the news, and are still spreading it. I’m wondering, can we be amazed at these events? Can we set aside our malaise and the mortification of the commonplace, and recognize that the birth of the Christ child is happening now, all around us? I pray we can.
This Christmas day, I wish you the joy and peace of knowing that God is with us, and that Jesus has come to share God’s dreams for this world. Love is raining down all around us. And I’d ask that you save a few moments from your joy to pray and care for those who cannot yet feel that love, those who are broken-hearted, or hungry or alone today.
Emmanuel, my friends,
James R. Dennis, O.P.
© 2011 James R. Dennis