Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Bethlehem Shepherds and God’s Message to Us

One of my favorite parts of the Christmas story is the story of the Shepherds to whom the birth of the Savior was initially announced.  Even outside of the Christmas season, I have kept several statues & sculpted figures around my home that depict shepherds.  Why the attraction?  In fact, my maternal grandfather was a shepherd in Sicily more than a century ago!  Understandably, I have always been enamored by shepherds.

 There are many facets to shepherds and shepherding and I have studied them all, but when I think of the Bethlehem shepherds, I think of the humility of those men and how the message they received from God on that special holy night is so similar to the beckoning message God sends each of us.

It would be helpful to understand the shepherds of that time in context.  They worked with animals all day and consequently, they were considered ritually unclean almost all the time by the Temple elders.  They were therefore excluded from Temple worship.  At that time, worship was directly associated only with the Temple.  Not being able to go to the Temple translated into not worshiping God.  Consider the shepherds’ plight: they were physically unclean, they could not worship in the Temple, they were cut off from a relationship with  God.  They were, in fact, among  the marginalized and not worthy of God.

Leave it to God to choose lowly shepherds to be the first to hear about the birth of Jesus, God’s own Son.  The most spectacular announcement in the history of the universe was delivered by God’s own messenger angels to lowly shepherds!  It was the announcement of the most important moment in redemptive history when the Word became Flesh. 

The announcement was followed by an invitation to the shepherds to go and see the baby for themselves.  Moved by a spirit of obedience, they went to find him.  They responded to an invitation to a relationship.  It was an invitation that Jesus would echo many times in his earthly lifetime:  “Come to me,” “Come and see,” “Come and eat,” Come and rest,” “Come and follow me,” etc. – all invitations to a relationship.

The message for us in the story of these Bethlehem shepherds is twofold.  The shepherds were considered lowly and yet God chose them as the first recipients of the most joyous “news” of all time.  God chooses us, too, to hear the profoundly personal message of his love in this time and place and to make it the centerpiece of our lives.  It is a message we receive daily mediated through all those people who love us, through the sacraments, especially the Eucharist, and through His Word.

And God invites us to a relationship with him as he invited the shepherds.  He invites us to know and love Him; to enter into a deeply personal and fulfilling relationship that will sustain us for all eternity. 

This Christmas, like the Shepherds, let us listen attentively to the Good News that God is sending us. Even if sometimes, it all seems to be bad news, if we  listen extra carefully, I guarantee we will hear the goodness of God pouring forth His love on us.  Let us respond to God’s invitation with all our hearts and make the trek with the shepherds to the “stable,”  that “place” in our lives where we will encounter the living God and let us pay Him special homage. 

Merry Christmas, my friends. 


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