If you were to put together a guest list for the birth of Jesus, the Messiah, the Son of God, 2,000 years ago, many would find it completely unbelievable and shocking that shepherds would be included. Shepherding was a disreputable trade; shepherds were outcasts, considered ‘unclean’ because of their profession.
People instead would have expected political leaders like Caesar Augustus, religious leaders such as the Chief Priests and the Pharisees and so on. Yet for St. Luke, the shepherds are the first to hear the Gospel of Jesus and they are the first preachers of the good news. At first they were terrified, but the angels reassured them: ‘Do not be afraid’. The response of the shepherds was immediate: ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place.’
The saviour has been born. In the humblest of settings, to the humblest of parents, into a despised and beaten nation, God took on human flesh – Immanuel – He is ‘God with us’.
Jesus did not find hospitality in his own city, yet He will be the one who will show the abundance of God’s hospitality. The poor, the marginalised, the outcast will be the first to experience it and the shepherds come in their name.
We are told that people were amazed by the shepherds and their words. Their journey didn’t end in Bethlehem, for them it was perhaps only the beginning as they returned ‘glorifying and praising God’. We are invited to Bethlehem today, in a spiritual sense, to open up our hearts to the one who has come to bring hope and joy, especially in these difficult days of a pandemic when so many are fearful and stressed.
What we celebrate, then is so much more than just remembrance of a past event. We come together in faith, to worship a living God who is present among us now, a God who lovingly sustains us along every step of life’s journey. We proclaim that Jesus, the child of poverty and a sign of contradiction, is also a messenger of hope, the light shining in the darkness, the pledge of God’s love for us.
And that makes all the difference in the world, especially when so many of us live in fear, where there is suffering and anxiety, uncertainty about the present and the future, loneliness and sadness.
So no matter who you are, the angels of God announce a message of peace and joy to everyone, especially those searching for meaning and purpose in their lives. The angels of God give us a glimpse of the powerful realms of heaven from which God’s enduring love descends into our world and enters into our lives transforming every fibre of our being.
In wishing you a happy Christmas, we reflect that God has done his part. But a lot remains for us to do. This Christmas, let’s mend a quarrel. Build peace. Seek out a forgotten friend. Write a love letter. Encourage youth. Keep a promise. Forego a grudge. Forgive an enemy. Listen. Be gentle. Laugh a little. Express our gratitude. Welcome a stranger. Take pleasure in the beauty and wonder of the earth. Speak our love. Speak it again.
In the darkness of Christmas night, the Christ child shines out as a wonderful light beckoning all of us to realise our full potential. Christ invites us, to be his hands and feet reaching out to those most in need around us and we should do so in a non-judgemental and compassionate way.