29 Dec Christmas 8:00 am Mass-Deacon Barclay
December 25th, 2016 8 am Deacon Blaine Barclay
First of all, may the God who embraced the vulnerability of human flesh in the Incarnation of Jesus bless you and your family’s this Christmas season.
The gospel I have just read goes right to the heart of Christian faith, pulls no punches when it tells us who this baby Jesus is. ’’In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God…. And the Word became flesh and lived among us’’. This is the Nicene Creed in its germination. ’’God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, Consubstantial with the Father…. Was incarnate of the Virgin Mary and became man’’. These well known, later statements of the early Church are already present in the prologue of John’s gospel. But to render this Christmas homily more concrete I want to talk about the familiar story of the shepherds and their response to the birth of Jesus. The story of the shepherds asks us to ponder our response to the disruption of the Christ child into our midst, of the Word made flesh. Its context is the message of an angel given to a group of shepherds just outside of Bethlehem. They are given the good news of the birth of the long-expected Messiah, Saviour, and Lord. Good news, not just for them, or for the Jewish people, but for all of humanity. This message of Messianic hope is accompanied by a spectacular light show and a Choir of angels. ’Take it away angels…’ Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of goodwill.’’ I want to focus on the response of the shepherds to this overwhelmingly good news, and not just their response, but the response of others to their testimony, and finally, the response of Mary to this phenomenal event. Each of these responses is instructive for us and can help open our own hearts and lives to the same event, the birth of the Christ bursting upon the scene, entering our horizons and our world.’’ The Word made flesh.’’
First of all, the shepherds, who were they, and why are they important in the Christmas story? Being a shepherd was often a lonely task, but these shepherds were clustered in a group, keeping vigil, taking turns watching the sheep given to their care. In all probability, given their location just outside Bethlehem, and their importance in the Christmas story, they were Levitical shepherds, watching over with special care the spotless lambs destined for sacrifice at the Temple in Jerusalem. To be sure, they lived out in the open, slept in the fields and caves that surrounded Bethlehem. They were people of the land, the anawim, representing God’s little ones everywhere. What is their response to hearing the good news announced to them? ’’The shepherds said to one another, ‘let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us’….So, they went with haste….’’ These shepherds don’t fool around, they don’t want to miss out on what has taken place, and neither should we. Let us also go with haste to witness this event that has been made known to us; the Word made flesh, God emptied into the vulnerability of human flesh, lying in a manger, a feeding trough for animals, a grain bin. Or, as one poet puts it, ’infinity dwindled into infancy’. Think about it for a moment. Is there anything more vulnerable, more given over to absolute dependence, than a newborn child? And yet, Emmanuel, God is with us, precisely in the poverty of this child lying in the manger. May we learn from the haste of the shepherds response, and welcome the excess of this gift of the Word made flesh. May we also learn from the boldness of their proclamation, for; ’’they made known what had been told them of this child.’’
Next, we can learn from the response of those who listened to the testimony of the shepherds. We don’t know who they were, other shepherds, the village people from Bethlehem, family and friends, the temple priests when they brought them the spotless lambs and told them of the Lamb of God they found lying in a manger. We don’t know the details of who these others were. We are only told of their response to the good news. ’’All who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them’’. May we also be amazed at the testimony of the shepherds, at the proclamation of the good news of the Word made flesh.
Last, but not least, let us pay attention to the response of Mary to these events, for Christian faith is essentially Marian in its response to the outpouring of God’s tenderness and love in Jesus. So, what is Mary’s response to the good news of the birth of her Son, to the testimony of the shepherds, the message of yet another angel, accompanied by a dynamite backup choir? ’’But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart.’’ We are called to imitate the response, the faith of Mary. It is only by treasuring, by keeping, the word of testimony, the word of God which is always an event, and pondering it in our hearts, literally, ’tossing it around, throwing it together’ in our hearts, that we can imitate the faith of Mary, welcoming this Christmas