Something struck me this past weekend as I was greeting people after Mass. A lot of people were just saying “Happy New Year” as I greeted them. No “Merry Christmas.” Eight days have passed since we celebrated the birth of Jesus on Christmas. For much of the world, the Christmas message is already forgotten. Fortunately the Church has not forgotten the Christmas message, and continues the celebration of Christ’s birth all the way through the Feast of the Epiphany. Following the wisdom of Mary the Mother of God, the Church continues to spend these days in unceasing celebration and contemplation of this most astonishing event in the entire history of the human family.
Sadly, there are fewer people here today than there were on Christmas. For too many of our brothers and sisters, the noise of New Year’s Day has distracted them from the true meaning of each year, each day. We are hear to pray for them, taking their place before the manger so that Jesus, Mary and Joseph do not spend this day alone. For without Jesus, New Year’s would have little meaning; just a mark of the passage of another year towards at best an unknown future. It is Christ Jesus who gives all time, all life a reason for hope, and a guidance on how to live life to the full.
Today’s gospel reading provides us with a game plan for living as disciples of Christ. First, let us look at the Shepherds and the three actions that they do in today’s gospel. First, they “went in haste” to find the child Jesus. They were eager to seek out and meet the Savior, to spend time with Him, getting to know Him, and receiving His blessing. That was why the Jesus humbled Himself to be born in a manger, so that we might be able to find Him more easily. Human history is a history of people lost in the darkness of sin and death, searching for forgiveness, meaning, grace and light. The significance of the name “Jesus,” which means “God Saves,” is that Jesus gives us all that we are looking for – forgiveness, meaning, grace and light. He saves us from sin and death.
Second, the shepherds “made known the message that had been told them.” The news that the angels told them, and that they experienced when they encountered the Babe of Bethlehem was too good for them to keep for themselves. They had a strong need to share the Good News of the Savior with everyone. In fact, this is one of signs having had a true encounter with God; the desire to share it with others.
Even on just a merely human level, we have all experienced need to share good news with others. Maybe it is a good book that we have read, or a movie we have seen, or a restaurant that we have eaten in that had excellent food – we tell our family, friends and co-workers about it so that they too can have the same good experience. How much more should that be the case when we have had an encounter with Jesus? Our hearts should burn with the desire to share this experience with others. In fact, if we do not feel that burning desire to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with others, it probably means that our friendship with Christ Jesus needs some maintenance.
Being a committed Christian does not make us immune to falling into the temptation of spiritual mediocrity – what we call the vice of sloth. We may continue to come to Mass, say our prayers, but underneath it all our hearts are not in it. We are just going through the motions. An excellent thermometer of this spiritual mediocrity is if we feel an inner urge to spread the Kingdom of God, to bring others into a friendship with Christ Jesus, and to share our experience of Jesus with others, as the shepherds did. If we do, then we can be confident that we are NOT suffering from sloth and our friendship with Jesus is healthy. If we don’t, then we need to “make haste,” like the shepherds, to Bethlehem to take a fresh look at our Savior.
Third, after “making haste” to see the baby Jesus, and then having “made known the message that had been told them,” the shepherds returned “glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen.” The shepherds were so full of joy that they could not hold it in. Materially nothing had changed for them. They were still poor; they had received no money, nor a better job, nor a new home. They did not even receive any Christmas presents. Yet they were full of joy, and when asked why they were so joyful they would have said something like, “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.” When we seek Christ, and share the Good News of Christ, then He will fill our hearts with the same joy that the shepherds had.
The shepherds in today’s gospel reading clarify the most important things of the Christian life; seeking Christ, sharing Christ, and rejoicing in Christ. However, life did not end for the shepherds that Christmas morning. They had to return to the humdrum of their ordinary life, as do we after our encounter with Christ. What is the secret of keeping the meaning and message of Christmas shining in our lives, even after we take down the lights and ornaments?
“Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart.” Mary, our Mother, shows us the way. Mary didn’t let life’s hustle and bustle drown out the beauty and wonder of Christmas. Think about it; we know more now than Mary did then about how everything was going to work out. Mary had to walk in the dim light of faith, one step at a time, trusting in God, witnessing His actions, and seconding it whenever she could. She paid attention to all God’s actions in her life, pondering in her heart all of His gifts to her.
God continues to dwell among us. He continues to shower down His gifts on us too. We must reflect on them in our hearts. Let us ask our spiritual Mother, the Mother of God and of all Christians, to teach us how to take care of the precious faith we have received and renewed during these days, just as she took care of the baby Jesus.