(Adults, you could begin by lighting a candle before reading the Gospel to your child.)
For so long, we waited and prepared. Now, at last, we celebrate the feast! We do not pretend that Jesus is born again each Christmas. He was born once, so long ago. Are we simply celebrating his birthday? Or is this celebration about something more?
In those days a decree went out from Emperor Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration and was taken while Quirinius was governor of Syria. All went to their own towns to be registered.
Emperor Augustus believes the whole world belongs to him. When he decides that he must know how many people belong to him, everyone does what they are told.
Joseph also went from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to the city of David called Bethlehem, because he was descended from the house and family of David. He went to be registered with Mary, to whom he was engaged and who was expecting a child.
Because the emperor wants to count all the people, Joseph and Mary must travel a very long way. There are no trains or buses so they must walk. It takes days. We hope they have a donkey for Mary because she will have a baby soon. They must wonder if they will get to Bethlehem before the baby needs to be born.
While they were there, the time came for her to deliver her child. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in bands of cloth and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
We know this story. We hear it every year. But we have to stop and wonder—why this story? Why such a strange place for his birth? It cannot be comfortable for Mary and Joseph, away from their home, without the comfort of an inn, without a proper place to stay. Why must this be the story of his birth?
St. Luke, who tells this story, does not give us much time to wonder. The story continues:
In that region there were shepherds living in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night.
Caring for sheep is not easy or interesting. Nobody wants to be a shepherd. Shepherds are unimportant. Shepherds are poor. Shepherds need their sheep in order to live. Sheep provide them with just enough—wool for clothing, a little milk, some meat. If they keep them healthy, they might be able to sell some in the market for a little money. But predators roam the fields looking for food. The shepherds must watch the sheep constantly. Losing a sheep means not having enough anymore to live. So shepherds live rough, away from important, rich people, spending night and day with these sheep.
Then an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified.
With only the moon and their campfires to see by, nights in the fields are dark. Into the middle of all this darkness, something steps who shines with the glory of the Lord. They know who the Lord is. Everyone knows who the Lord is. The Lord is God and God's own angel stands before them.
Absolutely, these poor, unimportant shepherds are terrified.
But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.”
The angel makes it clear, they must not be afraid. Yes, they are poor, Yes, others may think they are unimportant. But the angel of the Lord has news that they must hear.
And it is for them. For all people, yes, but the angel of the Lord chooses to bring this good news of great joy to them.
A Saviour—one who saves. One who will save them.
The Messiah—the chosen one of God. Chosen for them.
They know who the Lord is. Everyone knows who the Lord is. The Lord is God and God is born into this cold, dark night for them.
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace among those whom he favours!”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, 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.”
No kidding! Of course, they go. Who would not?
God has come to them—the poor but perhaps not unimportant. Does God think they are unimportant?
God has come to them.
And only to them?
Each Christmas, we hear this same good news of great joy proclaimed at Mass and in our homes. We may not always feel old enough. We may not always feel good enough. We may not always feel important.
But the angel of the Lord has news that we must hear.
And it is for us. For all people, yes, but each year the Lord chooses to bring this good news of great joy to us.
A Saviour. One who will save us.
The Messiah. Chosen for us.
We know who the Lord is. Everyone knows who the Lord is. The Lord is God and God is born—