Tidings of Great Joy
There are so many Christmas scripture texts to choose from today with Masses at midnight, dawn, and during the day. As we celebrate this magnificent feast, imagine the nativity scene, a story we know so well. It is such a familiar account that we may miss the importance of some of the characters, and others we may take for granted.
Let’s look at the shepherds, for example. These lowly, believed to be uneducated ones, who lived among the animals were the first people to experience the coming of the savior. Shepherds aren’t always thought of when we think of Jesus, Mary, and Joseph as the main characters in this scene. They probably smelled like their sheep, so they wouldn’t have been welcomed in the temple or in places where travelers lodged. It seems that the fringes, margins, and boundaries are where our God gets in first, in places we wouldn’t expect.
In first century Palestine shepherds had to watch their flocks around the clock for fear of wolves and thieves. This didn’t leave much time for formal prayer or temple attendance. They prayed where they were, as they were. These shepherds, however, were in the right place at the right time to hear the first Christmas message. They were the first to welcome the savior and to spread the news of the Child who had just been born.
As the poet, Irene Zimmerman wrote in “Unto his Own”:
Only the shepherds,
having nothing to lose
except a little sleep,
came to see.
It was no accident that such people would be called in first to pay homage to the savior. It is to the lowly, after all, that Christ came first as Redeemer. The circumstances of his birth testify to this: his mother “wrapped him in swaddling clothes and laid him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the place where travelers lodged.” The child comes into the world among animals, among shepherds, among the poor, and the angels of God. We are challenged this Christmas to do what Jesus and the angels and shepherds did: bring the good news of redemption to the outcast and the lowly. The “tidings of great joy are to be shared by the whole people,” and no one is to be left out.
With whom shall we share this great joy this Christmas? Who is most in need, most on the margins, among God’s special ones? May we reach out this week to someone who may not feel welcome in a worship space or in polite society. May we reach out to the shepherds of our day.
Sr. Mary Ann Collins, OP