Let’s stay in tune with the Church. Let’s keep enjoying the message of Christmas, savoring it, living it deeply. Unfortunately, there are fewer people here at Mass with us today than there were on Christmas Eve. Maybe the noise of New Year’s Day has distracted them from the true meaning of every year and every day. That’s all right – we are here to pray for them, to take their place beside the manger, so Jesus and Mary don’t have to celebrate New Year’s Day all alone.
In the Gospel today, St Luke paints a beautiful picture of those poor, hardworking shepherds making their way to the stable cave at Bethlehem. Where did St Luke find out about this encounter? He wasn’t there. No newspapers covered it. None of the Apostles were there. Only Mary could have told him about it. And when she told him, she chose her words carefully, to make the full meaning come out.
And so, the three verbs that describe the shepherds’ actions are not mere coincidence- they are the inspired pattern of how every Christian should live out the message of Christmas. First, St Luke tells us that the shepherds “went in haste“ to find Christ. They were eager to meet the Savior, to spend time with him, to get to know him, to receive his blessing. That’s why Jesus came to earth in the first place – so that we could more easily find him.
The Jews traditionally had their boy children circumcised on the eighth day after their birth. During the ceremony, the child would also be given his name. And performing the ceremony on the eighth day was also significant. God had created the universe in seven days. But that creation was wrecked by original sin. The eighth day is a symbol of the redemption – the first day of the new creation in Christ. God’s promise of blessing, our true identity, redemption and everlasting life – this is what Christ comes to give us, this is why we, like the shepherds, should be eager to go and look for Christ, to “make haste” to find him each day in prayer, the Bible, and the sacraments.
Second, the shepherds “made known the message that had been told them.” The news the angels announced to them was too good to keep to themselves. They felt a need to share it, to tell others about the Savior. That is always a sign of an authentic encounter with God. When we have or discover something wonderful, we can’t hold it back, we simply have to share it. When we truly experience Christ, even just a little bit, something similar happens. Our hearts automatically overflow with a desire to share that experience. But if we don’t feel that urge – it is a warning sign that our friendship with Christ is growing cold, and that we need to “make haste” to Bethlehem to take a fresh look at our Savior.
The third verb that Mary used to describe this scene to St Luke is a double verb. St Luke tells us that after the shepherds made haste to come and see Jesus, and after they told their amazing story to everyone who would listen, they “returned glorifying and praising God.” When we seek Christ and share Christ, he fills our hearts with a deep, inner joy.
The shepherds were so full of this joy that they couldn’t hold it in. Materially and economically nothing had changed. They didn’t have more money, a better job, a nicer house, or even a few more Christmas presents. And yet, if while they were walking back to their flocks someone had asked them, “What did you get for Christmas,” they would have had a ready answer. They would have said, “We have seen God, our Savior, and we have seen his Mother, our Queen. And now we know that God loves us more than we could ever have imagined.” Their bank accounts weren’t affected by their encounter with the newborn Christ, but they were immeasurably richer on Christmas Day than they had been the day before.
And if we follow in the shepherds’ footsteps this year, actively seeking Christ in prayer, the Bible, and the sacraments, and bringing Christ’s grace and presence to those around us, we too will experience the true joy of Christmas – all year round.
Since we celebrate the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God, on New Year’s Day, may I take this opportunity to wish you all a Happy and Peaceful New Year. I pray that the Lord Jesus and his mother Mary may enrich your lives during the New Year with an abundance of God’s blessings.