Memories seem to play a big part in what goes on around Christmas. At this time of year we all seem to think about the Christmases of our childhoods. My memories are very good and fill me with warm and nostalgic feelings. And I am very grateful for that. Yet I know that for some people, memories of Christmas are not happy. And the feelings they raise are not good or pleasant ones. This is real as well.
In those Christmases of mine, long ago, while I was caught up in the excitement and anticipation of all that was happening and about to happen, I was probably not paying a whole lot of attention to my mother and father who were very, very busy getting ready all of those things I and my brothers and sisters were so eagerly looking forward to.
They were pretty tired and probably stressed out. There was not a lot of money to spare in raising a family of several children. So the challenge of bringing about a “happy Christmas” for all of us was very real. Christmas is about both of these worlds; the happy excitement and anticipation of children and the reality of real life at Christmas time.
Tonight, Christmas is about the real lives you and I are living. I cannot even imagine all the stories that make up all of your lives tonight. I know that they are made up of good things and bad things, of happiness and of sorrows, of joys and hopes and of worries, fears and discouragement. But what is also very important is that all of us with our different stories and situations are all here together tonight in this holy place to do something meaningful for all of us.
Our faith, whether it is strong and deep or whether it is perhaps fragile and struggling, has brought us here with the hope that in some way we will meet God tonight. We come with the need to truly feel that God is with us in the midst of all the things that are going on in our lives.
I think that we come with longing that the joy and hope that Christ’s birth announces can be ours as well. We come with the longing that the comfort and peace proclaimed here will enter into our lives too. We come with the hope that the words of the angel“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy,” words proclaimed in the deep darkness of the night, will flood our lives with brightness as they filled the dark sky of Bethlehem with glorious light at the birth of Jesus.
This angelic message, intended for the whole human race and for all times and ages, was given to shepherds. I know how much we can feel unworthy when it comes to us and God. We can be ill at ease when we deal with God because we know our weaknesses and our failings. And we can so easily say “this is for holy people, not for me.”
But you know, the shepherds were not holy people. Far from it. They were the lowly of humanity. They were of little importance in their society. They were rough men and looked upon with suspicion. Yet it was these lowly ones, whom God chose to receive this long awaited announcement. St. Luke tells us that “…an Angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were 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 Christ the Lord.’”
We can see ourselves at times, or maybe even frequently, as being one of the lowly. The shepherds tell us that, even if that be true, we none the less belong here in the middle of this holy event. If we feel that we are the lowly, then we find ourselves in good company.
We need to remember Mary’s great hymn of praise after the angel announced to her that she would be the mother of God’s Son, when she said “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my saviour, for he has looked upon his servant in her lowliness.” For Mary, the lowly are dear to her heart as they will be to her Son, Jesus.
Mary would go on to say: "God has shown the strength of his arm, he has scattered the proud in their conceit. He has cast down the mighty from their thrones and has raised the lowly to high places. He has filled the hungry with good things and the rich he has sent away empty."
So, God comes to each of us who is here tonight, whatever the reality of our lives may be, whatever the challenges, whatever the needs, whatever the worthiness or lack of it that is there. God invites us to meet and encounter and indeed become one with His Son Jesus, whose birth we celebrate. Jesus tonight is the lowliest of us all, a new born child who asks only that we open our arms and our hearts and make him welcome in our life. We can all do that.
The shepherds have one more lesson to give us in this glorious celebration. St Luke tells us that they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child.”The shepherds were the first missionaries. The shepherds were the first evangelizers. They made known to others what had been told to them.
We know that our Holy Father, Pope Francis, has told us that we Catholic Christians need to be a community of missionary disciples of Jesus Christ. The Gospel says that the shepherds went out and told others what they had experienced and heard that night. If the lowly shepherds could do that, so can we, no matter how lowly and unfit we might feel ourselves to be.
What are we to tell others, what are we to show others in the way we live our lives. We go back to the Angel who stood there in that black night filling it with the glorious light of heaven. The Angel said to the shepherds: do not be afraid. Then the Angel spoke of good news, and joy and of a saviour.
Our poor mixed up world today is so filled with fears and anxieties. Would it not be good if our families, our friends and our neighbours could know about this good news which has touched our lives. Letting people see how we face things that are frightening and worry some with strength because we know that God is with us and will strengthen us is what we mean by evangelizing, sharing the Good News of God in our lives.
Like the lowly shepherds, we have a joy and happiness in our lives because we believe that God is with us. Like the shepherds, we can share that joy and that happiness. Each of us, in our own way and in our own circumstances are able to say to others: “‘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 Christ the Lord.’”