We strive to make Christmas perfect and invest our time, energy, and money to make it happen. We shop for just the right gifts, we bake cookies and prepare our family’s traditional Christmas foods, we put up Christmas decorations, we send out Christmas cards, we visit family and friends. Many times the stress of all this activity results in family arguments, saying things we later regret or worse…saying things we don’t regret, eating and drinking too much, wondering how we’re going to pay off our credit card bills. Some folks can’t wait until Christmas is over. Christmas is supposed to be a joyous, peaceful time, but all the shopping, preparing and running around can make it very hectic and stressful. In fact, in our efforts to make it perfect we can miss the main point of Christmas…the birth of our Savior, Jesus.
Well, if you think YOU have it stressful on Christmas, imagine what it must have been like for Mary, the mother of Jesus. Many months earlier the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and said to here, “Behold, you will conceive and bear a son and He will be call “Son of God”. ” Talk about a reason or waning to pull of the perfect Christmas! But I don’t think the birth of the “Son of God” turned out quite like Mary thought it would. The ride from her home in Nazareth to Bethlehem where she gave birth was 80 miles on a donkey. She gave birth to Jesus in a stable because there was no room anywhere else. Jesus, Mary and Joseph spent the first Christmas, not with their own families, but with a bunch of animals…literally! Mary laid Jesus in His crib, a manger or feeding trough from which the animals ate. Jesus’ first visitors are shepherds. Not he sentimentalized meek and mild young men who carry staffs in their hands, rather, the shepherds were often outcasts and social misfits. They would have been filthy and smelly, just like the sheep they took care of. These shepherds showed up, uninvited by Mary and Joseph, just after Jesus was born. Talk about a stressful Christmas!
What are we to make of these events surrounding the birth of Jesus? Specifically, why all the emphasis on the shepherds in this reading? Well, despite their lowly status the shepherds enjoyed three distinct privileges on the first Christmas night. To begin with, the shepherds were the first to hear the good news of Jesus’ birth as proclaimed to them by an angel of the Lord. Second, apart from Mary and Joseph, the shepherds were the first witnesses of the birth of Jesus, the Messiah whom Israel had been anticipating for hundreds of years. Finally, the shepherds had the privileged role of revealing God’s Word to others, including to Mary herself, the Mother of God! These distinct privileges highlight the fact that the good news of the Savior’s birth was intended for ALL people, regardless of their social status. Yes, even for the shepherds!
Today we enjoy privileges similar to those that the shepherds experienced over 2000 years ago. First, like the shepherds we too are the recipients of God’s revelation…the good news of great joy! The news that a savior has been born! That the light of the world has broken into the darkness! Next, like the shepherds we too are invited to a special audience with Jesus. Ever one of us in this Church has received a personal invitation through God’s grace to come here on Christmas morning to give Him glory, honor and praise. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here. In a few moments Catholics who are properly prepared and believe that Jesus is truly present in His body, blood, soul and divinity will come forward to receive Jesus in the Eucharist. For those of us who can’t come forward to receive the Eucharist, we can make a spiritual communion by asking Jesus to come and to dwell in our hearts! Finally, like the shepherds we too have something to share with others about the Christ child. It doesn’t have to be some deep theological reflection on the Incarnation. Maybe it’s simply telling someone that we went to Church this Christmas. Or that we have encountered the living Jesus and how He changed our lives. The privileges that we enjoy are testimony that the goods news of the birth of Jesus the Savior is intended for you…for me…for ALL people!
We strive for the perfect Christmas. What does that really mean? Something is said to be “perfect” when it achieves the end for which it was intended. Christmas is the celebration of God becoming man so that we might have a share in the divine life of God. And so, we make Christmas perfect…not be your fits to others, or by the cookies we bake, or by the decorations we put up…although all these things go into making Christmas memorable and more enjoyable. Rather, we make Christmas perfect by accepting God’s invitation to share in His divine life.
We’ve heard the revelation about the birth of the Savior Jesus…just like the shepherds. We’ve come to seek out the baby Jesus…just like the shepherds. All that’s left to make it a perfect Christmas is to share the good news of Jesus with someone…just like the shepherds! Have a Blessed and Merry Christmas. May your Christmas be…perfect!