Why the Shepherds

If Mary and Joseph were to announce the birth of the child Jesus on Facebook or Twitter, I wonder which of the following they would use: Is it “now that the dust has settled we are full of joy, as we announce the arrival of our baby boy,” or “after nine months we’re happy to say, that it’s a boy and he is ready to play.” Is it “someone new to cuddle and kiss, an adorable son we cannot resist,” or “from heaven to us with great joy, we are proud to announce our little cowboy.” Knowing Joseph I don’t think he will use the following announcement, “first comes love then comes marriage then comes Jesus in the baby carriage!”

It was a moment of great joy that day. The most famous Christmas carol of all time captures the essence of his birth: Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright, round yon Virgin Mother and Child, Holy Infant so tender and mild, sleep in heavenly peace. In this endearing atmosphere comes the announcement: silent night, holy night, shepherds quake at the sight, glories stream from heaven afar heavenly hosts sing Alleluia, Christ, the Savior is born!

It was to the shepherds first that the angels sang about Jesus. The fact that God made it this way helps us to understand better the meaning of Christmas. News would have spread faster if the angels went to the officials of the land, the Scribes and the Pharisees perhaps. Or even the Roman governor. But to the shepherds, who were at the opposite end of the political spectrum and social strata, God reveals his promise.

Shepherds had no power or prestige. Their command and authority is limited to the animals they tend. Nobody would expect a shepherd to tell stories about the birth of a Messiah. They would be subject to ridicule with a question based on prejudice alone. What would they know other than tending sheep? Isn’t that what shepherds do?

The Bible has tons of stories about our Lord honoring people that the world often overlooks, ignores and judges unjustly. From Moses, who had a speech impediment and to whom he handed the Ten Commandments to Abraham who became a father in his old age. From Jacob, who was a liar but became the patriarch of the twelve tribes of Israel to the least of these tribes, Judah, where came the Savior of the world.

Humility and acceptance are the constant theme of Christmas and our Christian faith. Some of us have known rejection in our lives. Some of us have been left out and ignored. Some of us were probably given the run around and told that we do not belong, that there was no room for us in the inn.

In announcing the Good News first to the shepherds, God is telling us that no matter how insignificant, worthless, invaluable we may think we are, we are important to Him, we are loved by Him.

Christmas is actually a retelling of God’s unending and unconditional love to a people mired by weakness and stigmatized by sin. From Adam and Eve, who became disobedient, down to every generation, sin disturbed our hearts in its varied forms: murder, lust, theft, war, envy, jealousy, division, hatred.

Not everything is lost, though. Like God’s chosen people and like the shepherds, we began hoping to see the light. Even when we have fallen, grace filters in through our acceptance of guilt and fidelity to God’s promise. The prophets did promise that a light will come to dispel all darkness. A baby will be born to a virgin. He will be called Emmanuel, which means God is present.

The shepherds held on to this promise. They prayed for the Messiah to be in their midst. Some of them must have wondered during those dark nights, “Will the Messiah ever come? Does God listen to our prayers? Does He keep his promise?”

Just like some of us who had become tired and weary with all our challenges and pains in life. Just like some of us who wondered whether it is worthwhile having faith, going to Church, sacrificing, forgiving and loving. Just like some of us who pine and yearn for a Christmas that is endless.

When the angels announced to the shepherds about the birth of Jesus, they knew in their hearts that God listens to every prayer. God keeps his promise. When the shepherds learned about Jesus, they felt in their hearts that God shared His very best so that the least and the lost among us will find our way to a Christmas that will forever last.

25 December 2011

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